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Adding insult to injury

October 14, 2009

The Australian – Volleyball nets spearhead anti-boatpeople campaign

NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka: The Rudd government will offer micro-loans, free volleyball nets and fishing nets to poor Sri Lankans as part of a campaign to dissuade them from illegally migrating to Australia.

Four hundred chairs, 300 fishing nets and 50 volleyball nets will be distributed in coming weeks to community centres and churches across the country’s west coast — all the products bearing warnings of the perils of the Indian Ocean crossing.

Australia will also offer community grants and micro-financing for local job creation projects in the hope that improving the lives of poor Sri Lankans in their own country will reduce the likelihood that they will seek a better life elsewhere.

Sri Lankans are now among the largest group of asylum-seekers in Australia with more than 300 washing up on our shores in the past year.

Another 260 Sri Lankan migrants, heading for Australia, were yesterday detained by Indonesian authorities in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra.

The freebies, known as “livelihood products” are part of an advertising campaign being launched this month in Sri Lanka.

Australia Customs has hired the International Organisation for Migration and advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi to deliver its message through posters, stickers, bookmarks and street theatre performances.

IOM Sri Lanka spokeswoman Stacey Winston said: “These products are really effective, small amounts really make a big difference. There will be two rounds of distribution of livelihood products. That’s what we will deliver in the first round but we have some flexibility to change the products”.

While posters and performances had proven “wonderfully effective” in previous public information campaigns in Sri Lanka “we wanted something tangible to give them also”, she said.

The loans would not be advertised in the campaign but offered to community leaders in follow-meetings.

The Australian government has identified Sri Lanka’s west coast, a series of largely Sinhalese Catholic fishing villages and the most popular jumping-off point for illegal boats, as the first target in their campaign. So prevalent is illegal immigration from that area that whole pockets of one village are known as Little Italy in honour of the Italianate villas financed with money sent back by locals who have washed up on Europe’s shores. Last week six Sinhala Christians from that region became the first Sri Lankans to be returned by the Rudd government. The men were deemed to be economic migrants with no reasonable fear of persecution on their return.

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