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28 March 2013 03:52 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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A top Sri Lanka navy official said he believed new Australian print and television commercials on the illegal sea journey, warning people would be sent back were having an impact.

In an interview with the Australian, Director Operations of the Sri Lanka Navy director Commodore N. Attygalle said that new Australian print and television commercials warning people would be sent back were having an impact, after Australian authorities heeded local advice that previous ads showing "white people in life jackets" boarding boats only confirmed asylum-seekers would be safe on arrival.

The boat carrying 97 passengers and crew, 40 of them children, was intercepted early yesterday off the east coast after leaving from a village 30km south of the Tamil-dominated region of Batticaloa.

"This is the first time we have come across a large number of children on board. Usually there are no more than three or four and we are worried this could be the start of a new trend," Commodore Attygala said.

"I think the reason behind this is that once they land on Christmas Island, as per the (UN) refugee convention, you can't separate children from their mothers and you can request the father also stays with the children, so they're realising this loophole.

"Probably they expect it could stop them from being sent to Manus Island or another (offshore processing centre)."

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka;s High Commissioner in Australia Thisara Samarasinghe said that co-operation between Sri Lanka and Australia - and turning back asylum boats - is helping to beat people-smugglers.

Mr Samarasinghe said that turning back the boats, coupled with the repatriation of failed asylum-seekers, had made a huge impact on disrupting the people-smuggling trade and was a policy that could be replicated elsewhere.

"You can turn away boats, but that is subject to conditions, where you detect the boat and what is the condition of the boat, and its distance from the place of origin," he said.

The opposition spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, yesterday praised the efforts of the Sri Lankan government and said the repatriation strategy was working.

"If you tow them back, if you send them back, they stop coming," he said.

Mr Samarasinghe argued the practice could be done safely so long as the captain of the navy vessel made sensible decisions to ensure the safety of the asylum-seekers at all times.
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