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Asylum seekers face court in Sri Lanka

Galle, Sri Lanka: The 41 Sri Lankan asylum seekers transferred by Australian authorities to Sri Lanka have arrived at the Galle Magistrates Court for an appearance before a local magistrate.

The 37 Sinhalese and four Tamils, including some women and children, are expected to be bailed shortly on charges of leaving the country illegally, a breach of Sri Lanka's Immigrants and Emigrants Act.

"Everyone will be bailed," a Naval officer who accompanied the asylum seekers to the court house said, as their bags and belongings were unloaded from a bus.

One of the asylum seekers, Anthony Fernando, 38, told Fairfax Media that he had had been "mistreated" by Australian authorities and given food that was past its expiry date.

"I went [to] Australia to find employment and then settle and bring my wife and family.


"We were ill treated mid sea by Australian authorities. They did not give food that had not gone off," Mr Fernando said.

Another man, Punchi Banda Podinilame, said he had one son, two sons-in-law and seven other relatives on the boat.

He said they had all gone to Australia to find employment.

Executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu condemned Australia's treatment of the refugees as "sad and depressing".

"That a liberal democracy such as Australia can treat people in this way, failing to meet their international obligations, failing to uphold the principles that it proclaims are at its foundations, is quite outrageous."

Dr Saravanamuttu said Australia had to rid itself of its "single obsession with immigration" and look at other more humane ways to deal with people who were fleeing their home countries on the basis of fears for their personal safety.

"There are ways to do this that are both humane and cost effective and I would urge the Australia government to consider these other approaches when it comes to dealing with refugees," Dr Saravanamuttu said.

He said the current situation – of would-be asylum seekers being transferred at sea and sent back to their home country with such "unseemly haste" – was unprecedented in Sri Lanka.