Learn the facts about boats first

DEFENDERS of genuine asylum seekers may need to moderate their comments in light of the recent interception of a boat in international waters.

The return of 41 Sri Lankans to their country via an Australian customs ship to the Sri Lankan navy on Monday has attracted international attention.

Unfortunately the level of hysteria does not match the facts.

Of those 41 people returned, 37 were from the ruling Sinhalese class – the dominant ethnic group.

Four were Tamils with only one having some grounds for asylum.

However, far more revealing were the reasons they took the perilous and long boat trip from Sri Lanka because it clearly was not about oppression in their home country.

Fairfax reporter Jason Koutsoukis spoke to the families in Galle where most had paid one million rupees, about $8200, to people smugglers.

Punchi Banda Podinilame had a son, son-in-law and seven other relatives on board and said, “they left for economic reasons,” – “they wanted work, they wanted jobs, they were told this was easy to find in Australia.”

One of the passengers Anthony Fernando was quoted, “I went to Australia to find employment and then settle and bring my wife and family,” while another thought he was going to New Zealand, “my dream was four houses in New Zealand.”

Four people smugglers are now behind bars and their prosecution will send a strong message.

Immigration to Australia must be about the orderly transfer of genuine asylum seekers from UNHCR camps where many have been waiting for years.

The biggest tragedy of the boat people era is the 1200 people who have died at sea – this seems to be forgotten in the human rights legal hyperbole.

Yes, the federal government’s policy of off-shore processing is tough, very tough.

However, the alternative of families dying at sea is far worse.

If nothing else the publicity surrounding these two interceptions will reinforce the policy that if you want to come to Australia there is a proper process, and that doesn’t involve paying people smugglers. – MARTIN GILMOUR, editor

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