Backlash over missing asylum seeker boat
"We are breaching our central obligation under the refugee convention" says lawyer Julian Burnside, after two boatloads of asylum seekers were allegedly screened and handed over to the Sri Lankan navy by Australia.PT0M0S 620 349
The second asylum seeker boat to recently attempt the journey to Australia has been intercepted by Australian officials who allegedly screened people on board via a teleconference.
A source from the immigration department has confirmed the ACV Triton, a 98-metre Australian customs patrol boat, intercepted the asylum seeker vessel on the weekend.
The boat was initially thought to have come from Java, Indonesia, but Fairfax Media understands the boat departed from Sri Lanka.
Customs vessel the Triton. Photo: Glen McCurtayne
It is understood interpreters were brought into the Sydney and Melbourne offices of the department on Saturday and Sunday to help ''screen'' the asylum seekers.
Four questions were allegedly asked of the 50 passengers, including their name, country of origin, where they had come from and why they had left.
According to a department document, the Customs and Border Protection Marine Unit personnel aboard the Triton are trained in use of force, ship searches, and can undertake armed boardings at sea.
It is unknown whether the 50 asylum seekers remain on board the Triton, which can carry up to 98 people.
Greens Immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the reports were ''extremely concerning''.
"There is no way that people can have their claims for protection properly assessed by immigration officials over the phone and when they are in the middle of the ocean,'' she said.
It comes as there are unconfirmed reports 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers on board another boat have been handed over to the Sri Lankan navy.
The asylum seekers, who have not communicated with civilians since Saturday morning, were on a boat allegedly intercepted by the Australian navy near Christmas Island, president of the Shire of Christmas Island Gordon Thomson said. They were then handed over to Sri Lanka's military.
A spokesman for the Sri Lankan military late on Tuesday denied the reports.
''We are not aware of any arrangements of the Australian Navy handing over refugees, to Sri Lankan Navy,'' he told ABC Radio.
Human Rights lawyer, David Manne said if the allegations were true, Australia would be endangering the lives of all asylum seekers on board the boat.
''There is no more serious or dangerous violation of our international obligations to hand someone directly to the authorities that they are fleeing from,'' he said.
A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison said: ''Responding to speculative claims is contrary to the policy and practice of Operation Sovereign Borders as described by the Joint Agency Task Force.''
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