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Tamil asylum seekers handed over to Sri Lankan navy, according to reports

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Asylum seekers: why the secrecy?

Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan say the whole of Christmas Island knew that asylum boats had been intercepted on the weekend - she questions why the government is being so tight-lipped about their fate.

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The Australian government is refusing to comment on reports circulating on Christmas Island that 153 Tamil asylum seekers 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. 

Scott Morrison will not confirm claims a boat of asylum seekers is in trouble off the coast of Christmas Island.

Scott Morrison will not confirm claims a boat of asylum seekers is in trouble off the coast of Christmas Island. Photo: Andrew Meares

Refugee advocates lost contact with the boat on Saturday morning, sparking fears the phone on board had been confiscated.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the government’s policy was that it did not confirm nor otherwise comment on reports of on-water activities in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders.

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.

But human rights lawyers have been desperately trying to contact the asylum seekers, saying it is profoundly concerning that the plight of these people remains in a shroud of secrecy.

Fairfax Media understands a group of lawyers have obtained four names and the dates of birth of passengers believed to be on the vessel, which had spent two weeks travelling from India.

The existence of a second vessel carrying 50 asylum seekers has not been confirmed, but Fairfax Media understands it too may have departed from somewhere other than Indonesia.

Human rights lawyer David Manne said Australians had the right to know whether the Abbott government was upholding its international obligations in providing protection to people needing protection.

"These people appear to be unable to access basic information about their rights and we don’t know where they are,’’ Mr Manne, the executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said.

"They can’t get in contact with anyone and critical questions about their fate continue to be raised and remain unanswered.’’

Director of the Human Rights Legal centre Daniel Webb agreed, saying that a government confident its actions were lawful and decent shouldn’t go to such extraordinary lengths to prevent scrutiny.

"There are serious questions about whether our government is complying with domestic and international laws. The answers to those questions depend on the facts but our government won’t give us any,’’ Mr Webb said.

On Tuesday, Mr Morrison would not take questions from reporters in Canberra after he gave a pep talk to Customs officers, congratulating them on the "difficult’’ job they perform.

"We know the work we ask you to do is difficult, the decisions we ask you to take in the context of the policies can be hard but the border protection command has never flinched,’’ he told Customs officers.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott also refused to answer questions about the possible return of the Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, only repeating that the government was "stopping the boats’’.

"I’m not going to comment on the operational details of what happens on the water but obviously we have been successful up till now,’’ he told ABC radio.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the government should be doing everything to offer protection to these people.

"I am extremely concerned about the children who were on this boat, the minister must confirm what is happening to these children," she said.

"We shouldn’t be deporting these people, we should be assessing their claims here in Australia."

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  • If this is true there's a legitimate comparison to the Vichy French government handing Resistance fighters over to the Nazis in WWII. If it's not true the government has only itself to blame for what people may think because of its absurd policy of silence over all refugee matters.

    This government was given power (and trust) by the Australian electorate. Along with that power comes huge responsibility, including a responsibility to keep the electorate informed on how they are using that power and fulfilling that trust. This lot are failing miserably on all counts.

    Paul D
    Date and time
    July 02, 2014, 7:06AM
    • True, it would be like the West German Government returning escapees across the wall back into the GDR. It would be like Churchill returning troops to the beaches of Dunkirk to become prisoners of war.

      Personally, I cannot believe that even this Government would sink so low.

      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 7:57AM
    • 1 These Tamils are not fighting a foreign countries occupying force. 2. Those Tamils came not from a war torn country, but from a refugee camp in Pondicherry, India. 3. Australians recognize that an open borders policy favors those that can afford to get here, over those that cannot.

      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 7:58AM
    • Well said. Also the derogatory language aimed at vulnerable people that is used for justifying domestic policy shows disdain for the Australian public, and then we have this arrogant snub towards informing us. Considering Abbotts disregard for human rights records and gift of naval vessels to Sri Lanka it is possible the govt is handing these people back without allowing us our right to know and comment.

      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 7:59AM
    • Totally agree Paul D.

      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 8:10AM
    • looks like they have done something i had mentioned on the message board yesterday... good stuff.. finally we have a govt who is not afraid of making tough decitions not run by left and greenies
      also sri lanka can put to good use the 2-3 naval ships we gave them some time ago

      ponzi scheme
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 8:13AM
    • I find it ironic. These Tamil refugees fled from Sri Lanka to the safety of Tamil communities in India. But safety wasn't enough, they also wanted the economic prosperity of Australia. And now (if the report is true) they have gone full circle and been returned to Sri Lanka. In which case they probably now wish they were safe in India.

      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 8:16AM
    • No it's not Bujoo.

      Only last night there was a segment on a TV show about the homeless in Australia who are really doing it tough. I am not sure how public housing is handed out but it seems that troubled Australians are always the last on the list. I'd rather see money spent addressing the problems of indigenous communities rather than be spent on country-shopping foreigners. Charity starts at home as far as I am concerned.

      Jack Richards
      Snowy Mounatins
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 9:24AM
    • Ahhhhh yes the domestic disadvantaged

      The Bujoo maybe Kevin Andrews is attempting to make the disadvantaged even more so. Our economy will never be "ship shape" (excuse the pun) under this rabble.

      How do you know that "illegal immigrants" are using the shield of seeking asylum to enter Australia please do tell...................i'm all ears

      Buffalo Bill
      Sydneys Northshore
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 9:24AM
    • This is such a silly argument - I suggest the 'supporters' you refer to do already do this. What your comment actually points out is that you and I and all others continue to support and vote in Governments who are incredibly inept. Our country has the resources to support our own disadvantaged as well as people who are seeking asylum from other countries. The shame is that you and I settle for low grade governance, that is the shame Bujoo. I am shouting loudly especially from yesterday when hundreds of community services around this country have been slashed due to the latest inept Government policies - are you shouting too Bujoo? Louder, I can't hear you yet.

      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 9:25AM

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