Kollam (Kerala), June 5 (IANS) Around 150 Sri Lankans headed for Australia by sea were apprehended in Kollam by Kerala police and 27 of them, including six children, were Tuesday sent to judicial custody under the Foreigners Act for not having travel documents, police said.
The 150 Sri Lankan nationals were headed for an 18-day boat trip to Australia from Kollam.
They had arrived in Kollam from various refugee camps in Tamil Nadu. With the area populated with numerous fishing boats, the Sri Lankans were hoping to make their get away unnoticed, Kollam Assistant Superintendent of Police Thomson Jose told IANS.
'When their boat was held, we were surprised to see that more than 100 people were stacked in the lower part of the boat, where normally the fish catch is kept. Some cooked food was also there and it was meant for their onward journey to Australia,' Jose told IANS.
Jose said 'this is a classic case of cheating by agents and middlemen and it's these innocent who will now have to suffer'.
'Today (Tuesday) a court here sent 27 of them, six children, three women and 18 men, to judicial custody under the Registration of Foreigners Act as they did not possess necessary travel documents. The rest of them had proper documents and hence they will now be sent back to their refugee camps in Tamil Nadu,' he added.
However, no agents or middlemen have been taken into custody.
The police after preliminary inquiries have not been able to link these people with any LTTE links.
'The whole thing came to notice when a group of Sri Lankans was seen waiting for a boat and the locals reported this to police. We took them into custody, and after interrogation we found that they were waiting for a boat to pick them up and join the rest of their countrymen. Soon with the help of Coastal police the main boat was seized,' said Jose.
Kollam is considered a safe place for these touts and agents to take innocent Sri Lankans for a ride.
Many have paid more than Rs.50,000 to unscrupulous agents who promised to take them to their dream land, Australia, on a fishing boat.
According to police, one reason why these people undertook this risk was the inhuman conditions faced by them in the refugee camps and many pleaded with the police not to send them back from where they came.
'We did not bother to find out about the consequences of the journey because our only aim was to reach Australia,' said a refugee.
'Now we will take steps to see that those with refugee status are sent back to the refugee camps,' said Jose.