The Australian Navy burned on Thursday two asylum boats used to ferry 51 passengers from Sri Lanka and 65 from Indonesia. The torching rite, witnessed by The Advertiser, was held 20 nautical miles of Christmas Island which is often the port of destination of the asylum vessels.
The burning was done as another boat with 25 illegal migrants from Sri Lanka arrived on the island Thursday morning and the Sri Lankan Navy intercepted on the same day another trawler off Wennappuwa with 67 residents suspected of planning to sail for Australia to seek asylum.
The issue of how to handle asylum seekers has divided the Australian Parliament, particularly where to process the asylum seekers.
The burning of asylum vessels is considered a routine procedure for the Australian Navy. The eighth boat to arrive in Australian waters in just four days is likely to suffer the same fate as previous vessels which had transported a total of 913 asylum seeks for July alone.
Customs removes any fuel on the vessels before the Navy torches it to ensure it would not pollute the seas.
However, the boat burning policy was criticised by Ian Rinfoul, a refugee advocate, who said it only encourage people smuggling groups to deploy only their most unseaworthy vessels which expose the asylum seekers to greater risk of maritime accidents.
A Customs spokeswoman defended the policy on the ground that lighting up the boat is more economical than repairing the vessel.
The latest batch of Sri Lankan refugees intercepted 50 kilometres north of the Sri Lankan capital, is made up of 13 members of the majority Sinhala ethnic group and 54 minority Tamils. Their arrest brings to over 500 the number of Sri Lankans detained by authorities for illegally leaving the poor and civil war-torn south Asian nation.
Despite the risks of being caught by Sri Lankan authorities or perishing during their journey, many continue to risk their lives in exchange for a glimpse of an expected better life in Australia. Over 1,300 Sri Lankans illegally reached the land down under since January 2012 using the dangerous asylum boats, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
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