Lanka ready to take back migrants: Rajapaksa

"Sri Lanka will cooperate with Australia to investigate, track down and bring to justice the masterminds who are involved in illegal human smuggling," President Mahinda Rajapaksa told Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith here.

Rajapaksa's assurance comes as reports indicated that some human traffickers were behind the abortive attempt to smuggle 40 Lankan Tamil refugees into Australia. The boat in which they were making their bid has for last week or so been stranded on the Indonesian coast with Australian authorities refusing them entry.

Rajapaksa said the government is concerned about people who are being victimised and trafficked by criminal elements, adding that they are ready to take back those who tried to migrate, but have a clean record.

"There will be no room for criminals to damage the good image of Sri Lanka by false accusations of migrants being subject to various harassments," a release by the Presidential secretariat quoted him as saying.

To give teeth to the President's offer, Colombo and Canberra signed an MoU for legal cooperation against human trafficking. The MoU was signed by Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Suhada Gamlath and the Special Representative of the Prime Minister of Australia, John McCarthy.

Besides discussing migrant smuggling, the visiting Foreign Minister conveyed Australia's interest for engagement in the rehabilitation and reconstruction in the war-ravaged north and eastern Sri Lanka.

While Rajapaksa pointed out that housing was an area that needed attention, Smith said that his government wants to help Sri Lanka in its de-mining efforts.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan High commissioner to Australia, Senaka Walgampaya described the Lankan asylum seekers in Australia as economic refugees.

"Yes, they're economic refugees and people are seeking a better life in Australia," Walgampaya told Australia’s "Channel 10" television on Sunday.

"... they (asylum seekers) would like to come here to Australia and they're making use of the conflict situation in Sri Lanka to make that excuse to seek asylum in Australia," he said.

"Sri Lanka has to be satisfied these people are still Sri Lankan nationals - that they don't hold passports of any other country," Walgampaya told the  Australian TV channel.

"If they're Sri Lankans, they would be taken back. And if they're people who have been wanted for committing crimes, well, they have to be brought to trial," the diplomat told the Channel. 

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