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Sri Lanka arrests 37 asylum seekers sent back by Australia
Australian Associated Press - November 29, 2014
Another passenger on the boat, intercepted by Australia's coastguard north-west of the Cocos Islands on November 15, was found to have a case for claiming asylum and was being sent to Papua New Guinea or Nauru for processing.
Sri Lankan Superintendent Ajith Rohana said the coastguard handed the asylum seekers, including six children, over to Sri Lanka's navy on Thursday.
The Australian government says the asylum seekers were individually assessed "under an enhanced screening process" involving face to face interviews conducted by trained protection officers supported by Tamil and Sinhalese interpreters.
Superintendent Rohana said the asylum seekers were being investigated by anti-people smuggling investigators. "They are being held in custody, but will be taken before a magistrate shortly," he said.
The Tamil Refugee Council criticised the Australian government's decision to return the asylum seekers, saying it has "almost certainly condemned (them) to persecution, including torture, by returning them to their homeland".
The screening system used by authorities was an illegal and insufficient test, the council said.
"The idea that you can properly test a person's claim for refugee status at sea has been condemned by well-respected legal and human rights groups many times, yet this government cares nothing for its legal, moral or ethical obligations," the council's Trevor Grant said.
On Saturday Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the turnback was further proof of the government's determination to stop asylum seeker boats.
"The government will not be deterred from the continued successful implementation of these policies despite constant opposition from Labor and the Greens," he said..
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten criticised the government's secrecy over its boat operations. "We don't even know what the policy of the government is; how it's actually working. So I think the government needs to treat the Australian people with some respect, and just be straight and upfront with Australians. What's really going on?," he said.
Labor's immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, has previously conceded boat turnbacks were effective and signalled that Labor might adopt them, but was forced to retreat after an internal stoush.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the boat interception showed that the government had not successfully stopped the boats.
"Scott Morrison has destroyed countless lives and spent billions of dollars on deterrence, but to what end?," she said. "People still need protection from oppressive regimes, refugees will still flee in any way they can and now 37 asylum seekers are in a Sri Lankan jail."
The returns were the first since July when a boat loaded with 41 nationals was intercepted by Australia. Sri Lanka charged them with illegally leaving the country, and their cases are due to be taken up by a court next May.
Australia has gifted two vessels to Sri Lanka's navy to patrol its shores and stop boats leaving the island, as part of Canberra's hardline border protection policy.