Australia funds e-passport project in Sri Lanka to curb illegal migration

COLOMBO (THE ISLAND/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A project will get underway shortly to introduce a new Sri Lankan passport with biometrics to strengthen the government's efforts to curb malpractices by streamlining the passport issuing process.

The project was meant to prevent large scale abuse of the Sri Lankan passport was in line with joint Australian-Sri Lankan efforts to tackle illegal migration, sources said.

Responding to a query, they said that Australia was funding the project to the tune of 500 million Sri Lankan rupees (S$4.76 million), with the treasury here making available an additional 50 million Sri Lankan rupees.

The Colombo-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is spearheading the project.

Asked whether there had been a delay in funding, sources revealed that Australia provided the required funds, in two installments in June last year and this year.

Sources said that funding for that project was in addition to Australia giving two large "Bay Class" patrol boats to the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) in appreciation of ongoing efforts to curb illegal migration.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday commissioned them as Mihikatha and Ratnadeepa at the Colombo port in the presence of visiting Australian immigration and border protection minister Scott Morrison and Australian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Robyn Mudie.

Well-informed sources told The Island that the IOM had had consultations with the defence ministry as well as the immigration and emmigration department over the past 12 months and the matter had also been discussed at the cabinet level.

The project was meant to introduce an automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) and digital pantographs in line with the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Sources added that the project would help thwart attempts by various unscrupulous elements to secure several passports each. Sources said that the government should be also mindful of meeting ICAO deadline for setting up an operation to issue e-passports by next year.

"The government is under pressure to enhance security features due to extremely low international estimation for Sri Lankan passports," an official said.

Addressing the media at the Colombo port, Morrison confirmed the recent mid-sea transfer of 41 Sri Lankans to the Sri Lankan navy, having had rescued them in high seas.

Morrison explained the Australian action while declining to comment on the detention of another vessel carrying 153 persons, widely believed to be Sri Lankans as the matter was now before an Australian court.

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