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‘Canberra silent over Colombo rights abuse for asylum deal’

23 February 2015 12:51

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Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe says Canberra had vowed to stay silent on alleged human rights abuses in his country in exchange for cooperation on preventing asylum seeker boats from heading to Australia.

The newly elected premier said on Monday that his country’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had agreed last year to help stop boats with asylum seekers from entering Australia if Canberra remained silent over abuses carried out by Colombo’s former government.

He said the relationship between Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the former Sri Lankan president, who was voted out of power last month, was a “mystery.”

Wickremesinghe accused people in the previous administration with close ties to Rajapaksa of being directly involved in human trafficking operations.

He called on Australia and “some other countries that fully back the Rajapaksa regime” to learn from their experiences. He added that his government would not be receptive to a similar deal.

“When human rights were being trampled, and democracy was at bay, these countries were silent. That is an issue for Sri Lanka.”

Under the agreement, Australia stopped voicing criticism over the abuse of human rights by Sri Lanka, especially in the case of the crackdown on the Tamil minority. Following the deal, Sri Lanka’s secretary of defense stepped up its naval interception and prevented boats from making their journey towards Australia.

It also assisted the Asylum seekers who were sent back from Australia.

Officials from Srilanka’s previous administration have yet to comment on this.

Australia has adopted tough immigration policies in recent years by sending asylum seekers to detention camps in Papua New Guinea.

Australia uses detention facilities in Papua New Guinea and the tiny island of Nauru to hold up the refugees who attempt to reach the country illegally.

Over 1,000 men are held on Manus Island, according to latest immigration figures, while 895 asylum seekers, including 596 men, 164 women and 135 children are held on Nauru.

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