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Sri Lanka: Plan in Place to Revise Immigration Law

(Sept. 11, 2012) The Government of Sri Lanka is planning to revise the country’s 2006 immigration law, with the goal of curtailing illegal smuggling of migrants. A draft law has been prepared based on the recommendations of a committee made up of members from the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the office of the Attorney General. (Sri Lanka Tighten [sic] Laws to Curtail Human Smuggling, COLOMBO PAGE (Sept. 1, 2012); Immigrants and Emigrants (Amendment) Act, No. 31 of 2006 (Sept. 26, 2006), available at REFWORLD.)

Among the changes contemplated are enhanced punishments for human smugglers, but not for the illegal migrants themselves. Those convicted of profiting from exploiting migrants will lose their assets and be subject to terms of imprisonment of up to 20 years (Sri Lanka Tighten [sic] Laws to Curtail Human Smuggling, supra), a big increase from the current penalty of one to five years (Immigrants and Emigrants (Amendment) Act, art. 3).

Chulananda Perera, the Controller of Immigration and Emigration, said of the planned revision, “[w]e have proposed [the] maximum possible punishment to those who have made human smuggling a business while risking the lives of thousands of unsuspecting victims. We have to take a sympathetic view on the victims and will not increase the existing prison term of three months where they are concerned.” (Sri Lanka Tighten [sic] Laws to Curtail Human Smuggling, supra.)

Many illegal migrants leave Sri Lanka to head for Australia; on September 7, for example, 58 people were arrested by the Sri Lankan navy bound for Australia from the eastern shore of Sri Lanka. (Sri Lanka Navy Arrests 58 Illegal Migrants Heading to Australia, COLOMBO PAGE (Sept. 7, 2012).) In the month of July 2012 alone, 530 individuals were stopped by Sri Lankan authorities as they attempted to illegally migrate to Australia. (Sri Lanka to Tighten Migration Laws to Reduce Asylum Seekers, ENGLISH.NEWS.CN (Aug. 13, 2012).) Among the approximately 6,000 detainees in Australia who are seeking asylum, about 1,000 are from Sri Lanka. (Sri Lanka Tighten [sic] Laws to Curtail Human Smuggling, supra.) The Sri Lankan government will seek the cooperation of Australia, as well as Canada, the European Union, and the United States, in implementing the new legislation. (Id.)