September 02, 2012
The government and the Greens continue to debate asylum seeker policy. Source: HWT Image Library
ANOTHER boat has been intercepted carrying 48 suspected asylum seekers off the West Australian coast.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said HMAS Wollongong, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, intercepted the vessel northwest of Ashmore Islands today.
The passengers will be transferred to Christmas Island for initial security, health and identity checks.
Mr Clare said people arriving by boat without a visa after August 13, 2012, ran the risk of transfer to a regional processing nation.
Meanwhile, the Opposition’s call to send asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka would put Australia in breach of its international obligations, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says.
The Opposition today urged the Federal Government to reach an agreement with Sri Lanka for the immediate transfer of people intercepted en route to Australia back to Sri Lanka.
This came after Australian authorities intercepted a boat carrying 81 suspected asylum seekers north-northwest of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands on Saturday.
The boat appeared to have come from Sri Lanka which has been making “significant efforts to prevent asylum boats from leaving its waters”, Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop and immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said.
“However, those who make it through should be the subject of a new arrangement for immediate transfer back to Sri Lanka without setting foot on Australian soil,” they said in a joint statement.
But Mr Bowen said deporting asylum seekers before their claims were considered would see Australia clearly breaching its obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention.
“(Opposition leader) Tony Abbott needs to come clean with the Australian people and say whether he would refuse to assess asylum seekers’ claims, return potential refugees to Sri Lanka and ignore Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention,” the minister said in a statement today.
Mr Bowen said Australia has and will return failed asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, but does not return asylum seekers to their country of origin without fully assessing any claims for protection.
It was the “height of hypocrisy” for the Coalition to call for a transfer agreement with Sri Lanka, which is not a signatory to the UN convention, yet oppose a transfer agreement with Malaysia on those very grounds, he said.