Colombo, March 27 (IANS) The Sri Lankan navy Wednesday arrested 97 Australia-bound illegal immigrants at Oluvil in the eastern province.
Navy spokesman Kosala Warnakulasuriya said that among those arrested were 40 children and 18 women, reports Xinhua.
He said that all of those arrested were Tamils and they were brought to the Oluvil harbour to be handed over to police for further investigations.
Thousands of Sri Lankans had been arrested both during and after the war which ended in 2009 while attempting to flee to Australia by boat.
Most asylum seekers allege harassment in Sri Lanka as a result of the war between the Tamil Tigers and army.
However, the Sri Lankan government insists that they are economic migrants and discourages any attempt in Australia to offer them asylum.
The Australian media meanwhile recently alleged that the navy is a major player in the island’s people-smuggling operations, helping asylum seekers to leave the country in boats bound for Australia.
The navy denied the claims.
Last year, the Sri Lankan navy prevented over 3,000 asylum seekers sailing to Australia although the report claims that another 6,428 made it to Australia.
During a visit to Sri Lanka recently, Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr promised financial aid over the next five years to assist Sri Lanka to boost the fight against people smuggling on boats from the island nation to Australia.
Under a plan announced by the minister, Australia will provide Sri Lanka additional surveillance and electronic equipment to expand the island’s capacity to target smuggling operations and better identify vessel departure times and locations.