The Albanian government has launched a concerted effort to stem a looming resumption of human trafficking, with a visit by Home Secretary Clare O’Neil to Sri Lanka and a $ 50 million aid package for that economically-besieged country.
Several boats have departed from Sri Lanka in recent weeks. Mostly the boats are intercepted by the Sri Lankan authorities. When you reach the Australian waters, the passengers are sent back.
The Australian Government does not currently provide details of boating activities.
The people smugglers started looking at a resumption of their trade just before the election, when a change of government seemed likely. The Morrison government sent text messages on election day about the interception of a boat, hoping to sway some voters.
O’Neil meets with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister GL Peiris.
Early last week, O’Neil and Peiris spoke by telephone. The visit is planned for a few days and coincides with the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
A statement from O’Neil said her Sri Lankan discussions would cover “how Australia can deepen co-operation and assist Sri Lanka as the country faces many difficult economic times as well as the strengthening of involvement in transnational crime, including human trafficking ”.
Australian aid is geared towards food and health needs. Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in announcing the package that the country had “faced its worst economic crisis in 70 years, leading to food, medicine and fuel shortages”.
She said Australia would contribute an immediate $ 22 million to the World Food Emergency Assistance Program to help three million people in Sri Lanka meet their daily needs.
The government will also provide $ 23 million in development aid to Sri Lanka in 2022-’23. “It will support health services and economic recovery, with a strong emphasis on protecting those at risk, especially women and girls,” Wong said.
The money is in addition to the $ 5 million that Australia recently provided to the United Nations agencies for Sri Lanka.
“Australia has a close and long-lasting relationship with Sri Lanka. “We not only want to help the people of Sri Lanka in its time of need, there are also deeper consequences for the region,” Wong said.
Asked what message the government hopes to send to human traffickers and the Sri Lankan government during O’Neil’s visit, Prime Minister Albanese said: “People arriving by boat will not be settled here.
“Human traffickers try to trade in misery. They try to deceive, [they are] often run by criminal syndicates.
“We will be strong when it comes to our borders. […] We will look after our international obligations to do the right thing. But the real thing is not to have a free-for-all through which people who show up will be settled.
“We understand that there are problems in Sri Lanka and that the wrong messages are being given by human traffickers. Our message will be very clear,” Albanese said.
One of the first acts of the Albanian government was to allow the Sri Lankan “Biloela” family to return to Queensland town. Albanians were then photographed with the family, a photo that some fear could be used by human traffickers as part of their advertising pitch.