O’Neil’s Sri Lanka trip focuses on people smuggling and bilateral relations

By Melissa Coade

June 22, 2022

New Home Affairs minister Clare O’Neil
Home Affairs minister Clare O’Neil. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Home Affairs minister Clare O’Neil has used an overseas trip this week to underscore Australia’s ‘strong support’ of Sri Lanka and reiterate that Australia’s border-protection policies have not changed.

This is O’Neil’s first overseas trip as minister since the new Labor government was sworn in earlier this month. During her time in Sri Lanka (19-21 June), she attended a roundtable discussion on countering people smuggling and met with Sri Lankan foreign affairs minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris.

The minister said officials shared an overview of the current situation in Sri Lanka and discussed new opportunities to further strengthen cooperation and collaboration between both nations.

In a joint statement with Peiris, O’Neil said both countries would strengthen cooperation to combat transnational crime, including drug smuggling, and border management

“The two ministers noted the strong bilateral relationship built on cooperation and determination to achieve shared interests-growing trade, investment and education opportunities, combating transnational crime as well as forging strong people-to-people links,” the statement said. 

“The two ministers also noted the strong bilateral cooperation between the two countries in intelligence-sharing, deterrence, disruption, interception and returns under the border security operations known as Operation Sovereign Borders.”

Australia and Sri Lanka would continue to explore ways of enhancing the ‘gold standard cooperation in the area of irregular migration’, they added, and agreed to convene the 8th round of the Australia–Sri Lanka Joint Working Group (JWG) on Counter People Smuggling and Other Transnational Crime as soon as possible.

“Minister O’Neil noted that there was no change to Australia’s border protection policies or Operation Sovereign Borders,” the statement said. 

“The two ministers recommitted their resolve to continue working together to thwart people smugglers and to prevent the loss of life and risk to livelihoods of innocent people.”

O’Neil’s trip coincided with the 75th anniversary of bilateral relations between Australia and Sri Lanka. 


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