The Prime Minister has sent a stern warning to people smugglers after he was questioned about what message he wanted to send through his Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil who has arrived in Sri Lanka to discuss asylum seeker concerns.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has insisted his government’s policy on asylum seekers is “very clear” after a refugee claimed she was told by people smugglers she would not be turned home under Labor if she took the dangerous journey.
Asylum seeker Meenu Mekala – who was sent back to Sri Lanka after being intercepted on a boat bound for Australia – said she was promised the “refugee-friendly” Albanese government would welcome them with open arms.
She described to The Australian it was “a hard journey” she had to embark on and stressed she would not have accepted the deal had she known the outcome.
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Mr Albanese was quizzed by a reporter on Monday about what message he wanted to send to people smugglers and those seeking asylum in Australia through Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil who touched down in Sri Lanka amid its economic crisis.
“People who arrive by boat will not be settled here,” he said in Melbourne alongside Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to announce construction was underway on the new $152 million state and government funded Melanoma and Clinical Trials Centre.
“Very clearly our system is in place of Operation Sovereign Borders.”
“People smugglers seek to trade in misery, they seek to mislead, often run by criminal syndicates and that is why it’s so misleading to behave in that way.”
He stressed his government will be “strong on borders without being weak on humanity”.
“We will do as Australia has done for a long period of time. We will look after our international obligation to do the right thing,” the Prime Minister said.
“But the right thing is not a free-for-all whereby people who turn up will be settled, we understand that there are issues in Sri Lanka and that the wrong messages are being given by people smugglers.”
Ms O’Neil is expected to speak with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and her counterpart GL Peiris to discuss the humanitarian and economic crisis in their nation.
The Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Ministers spoke over the phone last week where the Sri Lankan MP extended an invitation to visit the South-Asian island.
Over the weekend, Mr Wickremesinghe asked the Australian government for aid such as medicine, food and even fertiliser after the country’s foreign currency reserve effectively ran out, leading to unrest and protests.
Shadow Immigration Minister Dan Tehan urged Mr Albanese to visit Sri Lanka to address the humanitarian crisis in the country in hopes of reducing the number of asylum seekers making the dangerous journey to Australia.
Mr Tehan told Sky News Australia he was not surprised by the words from people smugglers who would “do and say anything” to get money to fund their “evil trade”.
He suggested Mr Albanese should stop by Sri Lanka on his trip to Europe for the NATO security summit after the nation’s leader called for assistance from Australia.
“As a matter of fact, reading in the paper on Sunday, that Prime Minister Albanese looks like he will be heading to Europe – well he’ll be flying over Sri Lanka so he should stop and talk to the government and offer the help and the assistance they need to help with the humanitarian crisis that they are facing,” he told Peter Stefanovic.
The former trade and tourism minister said Australians do not want to see a return to the horrific scenes of capsized boats and bodies of refugees floating in the ocean.