During an official visit to Canberra on Wednesday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged citizens who fled to Australia seeking asylum to return, saying “all is forgiven”.
PM Wickremesinghe claimed that these Sri Lankans had broken the law in trying to flee to Australia but insisted they would not face prosecution if they returned. Wickremesinghe’s comment comes as Australia increases pressure on failed asylum seekers to return home voluntarily, including offering large sums of money, amid fears a deal for the United States to take refugees has collapsed.
Hundreds of Sri Lankans, mostly Tamils, tried to flee to Australia, after the end of the decades-long civil war, which ended with the defeat of Tamil separatists in 2009. Many died at sea on their journey.
Immigration Department figures from December 2016 show 86 Sri Lankans are in detention centres in Australia, but the government would not say how many are on Manus Island and Nauru. There are currently 1,241 people subject to regional processing on the two islands. A spokeswoman for the Immigration Minister said only that the largest groups were Iranian, Sri Lankan and Afghani.
Asked about those who might prefer to remain in the camps than return in fear for their safety, he insisted they were mistaken, pointing to a newly established missing person’s office in Sri Lanka.
“Some of them have left from places where conflict didn’t even take place,” Wickremesinghe said. “All of them are not even Tamils and we even want all the Tamils to come back, we should not make a mess of ourselves like they’ve gone and done in Europe and the Middle East. They left Sri Lanka illegally. They are welcome to return to Sri Lanka and we won’t prosecute them. So they can come back to Sri Lanka, and we will have them, but remember, they broke the law in coming to Australia”.
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