Australia funds GPS trackers on Sri Lankan fishing boats, in part to deter people smugglers

Australia funds GPS trackers on Sri Lankan fishing boats, in part to deter people smugglers

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Australia has provided funds to install tracking devices on more than 4,000 Sri Lankan fishing vessels, a measure aimed in part at detecting asylum seekers traveling to Australia.

During her visit to Sri Lanka this week, Home Secretary Clare O’Neil has repeatedly stressed that Australia is sticking to its tough Operation Sovereign Borders policy, despite last month’s change of government.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis in decades and the Australian government has also announced it will provide $50 million in aid to address urgent food and health needs.

Related: ‘We want justice, not fuel’: Sri Lanka’s Tamils ​​on the north-south divide

O’Neil met with Sri Lanka Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda in Colombo on Tuesday to inaugurate a new Fisheries Monitoring Centre.

“Fishing vessels should only be used for fishing and not for any other activity,” O’Neil said in a statement.

“The close working relationship between Australia and Sri Lanka means that anyone trying to board a boat and sail to Australia will be spotted and stopped by border authorities.”

O’Neil said that “over the past few weeks and months” the governments of Australia and Sri Lanka “have spotted and stopped every boat attempting to sail to another country, saving many lives at sea”.

The Australian newspaper reported that the Australian government would provide 4,200 GPS trackers to the Sri Lankan authorities. The report said that once the system was fully implemented, the Sri Lankan government would penalize ships without trackers or those that disable them.

The Guardian has obtained further details from O’Neil’s office.

But a statement released earlier by Australia’s High Commission said Australia’s “support has seen funds allocated to install vessel surveillance systems” on more than 4,000 multi-day fishing vessels. The statement was ambiguous as to when these systems were deployed.

O’Neil’s statement suggested vessels would be monitored for a number of reasons, including sending assistance to boats in need of assistance, ensuring fish stocks are not overfished and to allow the fishing industry to meet export requirements for sustainable and ethical comply with fishing practices.

“Finally, the Fisheries Monitoring Center will assist in the early identification of illegal fishing practices and irregular vessel movements destined for transnational crime, including human smuggling, that pose a risk to the economic and security interests of Sri Lanka and other countries,” the statement said.

“Australia is committed to supporting Sri Lanka’s efforts to strengthen its border management capacity.”

O’Neil has been meeting with ministers in Sri Lanka since Monday, on her first overseas visit since being sworn in as Home Secretary.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris and O’Neil issued a joint statement on Monday highlighting “the strong bilateral cooperation between the two countries in intelligence sharing, deterrence, disruption, interception and return as part of what is known as Operation.” Border security operations established sovereign borders”.

“The two ministers reiterated their determination to continue working together to put a stop to people smugglers and prevent loss of life and threats to the livelihoods of innocent people,” they said on Monday.

O’Neil acknowledged that Sri Lanka needs help as it faces “very difficult economic times”.

Human Rights Watch urged O’Neil to address human rights during the visit, including the need to uphold the right to peaceful protest and ensure that security forces respond appropriately to any disturbance.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Monday that Australia would immediately donate $22 million to the World Food Program for emergency food aid to help three million people in Sri Lanka meet their daily food needs.

Australia would also provide $23 million in development assistance to Sri Lanka in 2022-23.

Wong said Australia will help the people of Sri Lanka in times of need amid shortages of food, medicine and fuel. But she also expressed concern about “deeper implications for the region if this crisis continues.”

The aid package is designed to support health services and economic recovery, with a focus on protecting vulnerable people, particularly women and girls.

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