Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Karen Andrews MP, paid a visit to Colombo, Sri Lanka, from 18 to 21 December 2021, on the eve of the 75th anniversary of bilateral relations in 2022. Minister Andrews called on the President of Sri Lanka, His Excellency Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof G. L. Peiris, State Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon Chamal Rajapaksa MP and senior officials from Sri Lanka’s border security agencies.
During the visit, Minister Chamal Rajapaksa and Minister Karen Andrews re-committed to deepen the bilateral ‘gold standard’ partnership to deter and disrupt people smuggling and human trafficking, including through the “Zero Chance” awareness campaign on the dangers of irregular migration. The two Ministers noted that, despite the challenges faced due to the coronavirus pandemic, Australia and Sri Lanka had continued close cooperation on countering all forms of trans-national crime, including drug smuggling, as well as strengthening border management and regional border security cooperation.
The two Ministers launched Sri Lanka’s new multi-agency Border Risk Assessment Centre (pictured), jointly funded by Australia and Canada and implemented by the International Organisation for Migration as part of the Integrated Border Management project initiated in 2017. The Centre will become a centrepiece of Sri Lanka’s border management apparatus, providing an intelligence-driven, real- time data, risk-based approach to border security, while facilitating faster mobility of bona-fide travellers. The two Ministers also signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Returns and Readmission of Persons, which focusses on legacy and onshore caseloads in Australia.
The two Ministers discussed other areas of partnership to strengthen border security, including the installation of VMS transponders on approximately 4500 multi-day fishing vessels, and the establishment of a land-based monitoring centre, which will significantly enhance Sri Lanka’s maritime domain awareness by building capacity to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in the region, as well as other transnational crime including maritime people smuggling. The two Ministers also noted the provision of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines to support the Sri Lankan Navy during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the provision to the Sri Lanka Police of hand-held Chemical Detection Devices for the detection of explosives and narcotics.
The two Ministers indicated their satisfaction with the ongoing cooperation under the Australia–Sri Lanka Joint Working Group (JWG) on Counter People Smuggling and Other Transnational Crime and expressed their support for a face-to-face meeting of the JWG in Sri Lanka when coronavirus pandemic conditions permit. The two Ministers also noted the strong bilateral cooperation between the two countries in intelligence sharing, deterrence, disruption, interception and returns, particularly since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013.