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Sri Lankan men sent home from Christmas Island

The Gillard government has returned a group of 26 Sri Lankan men to Sri Lanka on a charter flight that left from Christmas Island last night.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said in a statement that the men arrived by boat at Christmas Island and Cocos Islands earlier this week, and ''raised no issues that engaged Australia's international obligations''.

Mr Bowen said the government was sending a message that it would not accept ''economic refugees.''

''We will not have people that do not have genuine claims to make going through our system,'' he told reporters in Sydney.

Mr Bowen said the Sri Lankans had been returned without any support or reintegration assistance. He said such returns were costly but the costs were worth paying to break the business model of people smugglers.

Mr Bowen said the government had also returned the final member of a group of Sri Lankans who arrived on a fishing trawler which was allegedly hijacked in Sri Lankan waters. The man departed Christmas Island on a separate flight on Wednesday.

The group of 15 were intercepted near the Cocos (Keeling) Islands a week ago and 14 of the group were flown back to Sri Lanka the next day.

''As with the particular case of those people returned to Sri Lanka last week, there are powers available to the government to return people where they do not engage Australia's international obligations – and when appropriate we certainly intend to use them,'' Mr Bowen said.

He said 116 Sri Lankans had been returned home either voluntarily and involuntarily since the government's offshore processing began on August 13.

''People who pay smugglers are risking their lives and throwing their money away. There is no visa awaiting them on arrival, no speedy outcome, and no special treatment,'' Mr Bowen said.

''This government is committed to breaking the evil people smuggling trade and preventing people from taking dangerous boats.''

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young told ABC radio that unless a person said they were seeking asylum and wanted to invoke their rights under the refugee convention to have their case assessed, the official interviewing them were not obliged to offer them the opportunity to seek asylum.

“I urge the government again to really look at how these practices are being worked out and whether there can be something done to make sure that people actually have independent legal advice before entering into those meetings,” Senator Hanson-Young told ABC radio.

Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison welcomed the move, which he said the Coalition had long been calling for.

"It's about time. It took a boatload of pirates and constant pressure from the opposition to shake this government into action,'' Mr Morrison said.

"We will know whether this is the exception or the rule and whether this is an effective approach when the planes are heading back to Sri Lanka as regularly as the boats are heading to our shores.

"We have always wanted the government to take action to send them back and Labor have demonised and vilified us for years for saying so.''

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