Tamil asylum seekers being brought to mainland

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(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)


The federal government is pre-empting a High Court challenge against the government’s decision to hold 157 Tamil asylum seekers at sea for almost a month.



Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the group is being transferred to the Australian mainland on a temporary basis until India can assess if it’s possible to take them back.


The 157 men, women and children are being transferred to the Cocos Islands, and from there it’s believed they will be flown to the Curtin detention centre in remote Western Australia.


Amanda Cavill reports.


(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)


The boat carrying the group left India late last month and was intercepted by an Australian vessel early this month.


Since then the asylum seekers have been held on board the Customs ship at an unknown location, while their legal status is determined.


Lawyers for the Sri Lankan asylum seekers argue the group was within Australian territorial waters when their vessel was intercepted 27 kilometres from Christmas Island.


They say the decision to deatain them on the high seas did not fall within the bounds of legal reasonableness.


Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says none of these people will be resettled in Australia.


“These are matters to be determined they won’t remain in Australia. They will not be resettled in Australia. That is the policy of the Australian Government and there is no change to our policy on any front and more importantly there is no change to our resolve.”


Mr Morrison denies the decision to bring them to the mainland was influenced by action in the High Court, which is due to hear the asylum seekers’ case next month.


It is uncertain just what effect the Minister’s announcement will have on the High Court challenge.


But the Greens’ immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson Young says the court case must go ahead.


“Yes it should because this is really important. We can’t be seen, we can’t see a situation where the Australian government acts outside our international obligations with such callous disregard for the welfare of individuals and that’s what we’ve seen for the last month.”


Mr Morrison has just returned from India, where he held meetings with ministers in New Delhi about the fate of the group.


He says the group will be held until Indian consular officials have had the opportunity to speak to them.


Scott Morrison says India has agreed to take back any of its citizens and will consider taking the Sri Lankan nationals who had residency in India.


“The Minister for Home Affairs has confirmed to the Australian Government that in addition to India’s standing policy of receiving returns of any Indian citizens, he indicated to me at our meeting that they will also consider the return of non-Indian citizen residents who may be Sri Lankan nationals. This is a significant and generous extension of Indian Government policy on these matters. And we greatly appreciate this consideration and the cooperation that has been extended to the Australian Government.”


Mr Morrison says the government will to continue to meet its undertakings to the High Court.


He says he is in regular contact with the UN refugee agency, insisting Australia is still complying with its international obligations.