60 Sri Lankan migrants who arrived on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion two weeks ago have been deported. A total of 120 people had made the 4,000 km journey in a fishing vessel, paying thousands of euros to smugglers.
The group of 60 were flown back to Sri Lanka on a chartered flight from Reunion's main airport, authorities said.
None of the group resisted as they were escorted onto the plane by 62 police officers and gendarmes. A member of the airport staff said "There was a lot of sadness in the eyes," AFP reported.
The group of 120 had arrived at Reunion on April 13, having made the 4,000-kilometer journey across the Indian Ocean in a fishing boat from Sri Lanka. Each of them had paid between €2,000 and €5,000 to make the crossing.
Reunion authorities said 34 were admitted to the territory to file an asylum application which would be assessed by the French migration authority, Ofpra. A further 26 were held for several hours in a containment area before being released under a court order. AFP reports they are free to move around the island and are being looked after by associations.
Helped by smugglers, more than 270 Sri Lankans arrive in 12 months
The boat's three Indonesian crew members have been charged with assisting illegal immigration. Their case is due to be heard on May 15.
Since March 2018, 273 Sri Lankans have arrived on Reunion Island. 130 are still there, waiting for a decision from Ofpra on their asylum claims. All the others have been sent back to Sri Lanka. Frederic Joram, the Secretary General of the Reunion Island Prefecture, said "there are clearly illegal immigration networks in operation."
According to the Sri Lanka Mirror, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported last October that it had uncovered a smuggling operation planned by a Sri Lankan who had traveled to Reunion illegally by boat in March 2018 and was now a resident there. In that operation, 67 of the 90 migrants attempting to travel to Reunion were ethnic Tamils.