Sat, Dec 3, 2016 | updated 01:27 AM IST

Indian authorities assure cooperation to Australian team on prevention of human trafficking, narcotics smuggling

Updated: Nov 21, 2016 18:13 IST

By Ashok Dixit

New Delhi [India], Nov.21 (ANI): A two-member delegation from Australia has been assured by their Indian counterparts here of full cooperation with regard to monitoring and sharing intelligence and other information on suspect incidents of people smuggling (human trafficking), drugs and narcotics.

Speaking to ANI here, Australian Border Force (ABF) Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg and Major General Andrew Bottrell, Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), said that they had a fruitful and satisfactory three-day visit to India during which they had mutually discussed and reinforced understandings on all key aspects of existing bilateral arrangements with regard to any form of trafficking or smuggling with their Indian counterparts in the Central Board of Excise (CBE), the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

Commissioner Quaedvlieg further informed that this Australian team has been on a fortnight-long tour to four out of five South East Asian and South Asian countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and India so far, and will end its tour with Sri Lanka before returning home.

He said that during his visit to India, the discussions also focused on future areas of cooperation with key stakeholders, including on issues such as maritime and or air surveillance.

Both Commissioner Quaedvlieg and Major General Bottrell used their visit to New Delhi to place significant emphasis on the fact that the current Australian government is very keen to indicate its firm resolve to maintain its "one-off arrangement" with the United States with regard to refugee resettlement from regional processing centers located in Nauru, a tiny island country in Micronesia, northeast of Australia and Manus Island, the fifth-largest island in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia.

Both said resettlement in Australia is available to only the most vulnerable, namely women, children and families who already have already been granted refugee status in the above three regional resettlement centers.

They said that any further agreement is with the United States only and will not under any circumstance be available to any future illegal maritime arrivals (IMAs) to Australia, and added that authorities in the United States will conduct their own assessment of refugees and decide which people are to be resettled in America.

They said refugees would need to satisfy standard requirements for admission into the United States, including passing health and security checks, and added that this process will take time and will be gradual.

It was stated that this arrangement is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"We will continue to support the Governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to return people determined not to be owed protection. These people should return to their country of origin," they said, adding that this one-off arrangement with the United States must not be seen as a "softening of Australia's immigration policies".

They warned and cautioned that the Australian government has taken suitable steps over the last three years to put in place both maritime and aerial assets to intercept and or return potential illegal asylum seekers back to their points of original embarkation.

As regards their India visit, they said they had come away from their meetings fully satisfied and confident that authorities in New Delhi will maintain the ongoing bilateral engagements and understandings on people smuggling (human trafficking), drugs and narcotics.

Both informed that relevant institutions in Australia are talking to Diaspora community and briefing them about the one-off agreement with the United States, and added that the Indian side has recognized this challenge before Australia, and are ready to offer cooperation to the fullest.

They made a specific mention of Tamil nationality asylum seekers based in well organized refugee/resettlement camps in Tamil Nadu.

The ABF chief confirmed that currently his force's jurisdiction covered 200 nautical miles and that the ABF and the OSB are working jointly with the Australian Navy in managing existing assets to prevent illegal entries.

The Australian government has said settlement in Australia will never be an option for those found to be refugees in regional processing centers nor for anyone who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat in the future.

Australia's border protection policy remains consistent and firm. Operation Sovereign Borders will continue to turn back people smuggling ventures where it is safe to do so and any illegal maritime arrivals to Australia will be sent to regional processing centers.

Under the present coalition government, Australia's borders are now stronger than ever, the two officials said. (ANI)