Sri Lanka arrests 22 trying to go to Australia by boat

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police said Monday that they have arrested 22 people who were attempting to illegally migrate to Australia by boat.

The suspects were arrested on a tip Sunday at the coastal town of Puttalam, about 120 kilometers (74 miles) north of the capital, Colombo, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara's office said. They were to appear in court on Monday.

Sri Lankan and Australian authorities are cooperating with each other to combat human smuggling. No Sri Lankan asylum seekers have reached Australia by boat since 2013.

But Sri Lankans, Iranians and Afghans are the largest national groups among more than 2,000 asylum seekers living on the Pacific islands nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Australia pays those countries to house them, but refuses to resettle any of them.

During a visit to Sri Lanka this month, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he appreciated Sri Lanka's strong cooperation in countering people smuggling and announced that Australia would give three Stabicraft vessels to Sri Lanka's coast guard in an apparent bid to tackle human smuggling.