"At least 1,500 people have been arrested by the navy while attempting to leave Sri Lanka by boat while the Australian government has returned around the same number as part of a stricter immigration policy. "
Colombo, July 2 - Sri Lanka's military Wednesday denied sending a boat to pick up 153 asylum seekers believed to have been on board a ship stranded in Australian waters, an official said.
No boat has been sent to pick up asylum seekers, military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya told reporters, adding there are no plans to send one either.
We have heard speculation of this and wish to state no navy vessel has been dispatched to collected asylum seekers. Moreover given the rough sea conditions, it is unlikely a boat could even reach the area, Xinhua quoted him as saying.
His denial was backed by navy spokesman Kosala Warnakulasuriya who insisted there was no record of Sri Lanka receiving any asylum seekers from the Australian government recently.
Confusion continues to surround the fate of a boat that reportedly set sail from India carrying 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Australia.
The boat first came to public attention Friday via refugee advocates who called on the Australian government to provide assistance as the boat was supposedly running low on fuel.
However, Australian government officials have refused to comment or confirm the existence of such a ship.
A spokesman for Australian Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, said the government's policy was that it did not confirm nor otherwise comment on reports of on-water activities in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders.
Sri Lanka has been the source of thousands of illegal migrants or boat people to Australia for the past few years.
Despite the end of a three-decade war in 2009, the number of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka has increased pushing the Australian government to take tough measures to prevent them from reaching that country.
At least 1,500 people have been arrested by the navy while attempting to leave Sri Lanka by boat while the Australian government has returned around the same number as part of a stricter immigration policy.
The Australian government is working closely with the local navy to monitor and prevent boat people from Sri Lanka and have implemented awareness programmes to discourage locals from attempting to illegally migrate.