Refugee advocates in Australia have been trying to make contact with the last remaining Sri Lankan from a hijacked trawler intercepted near the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the early hours of Friday, hoping they can block his removal from Australia on the grounds he faces serious danger in Sri Lanka.
Fourteen of the 15 Sri Lankans from the Chejan multi-day fishing trawler allegedly taken by force on October 14 were flown back to Sri Lanka on Saturday barely 24 hours after arriving. They were immediately detained for questioning in the capital, Colombo.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said at the weekend none of the returned Sri Lankans made claims for asylum. "Some of these people face serious charges in Sri Lanka," he said.
"The government took the view it's appropriate that they face those charges, and that the removal occur as soon as possible.
"They made no claims for protection nor raised any issues that engaged Australia's international obligations."
Yesterday, the Refugee Action Coalition said the group's swift removal was extremely worrying. The organisation said it was reminiscent of recent cases in which detainees were "screened out" at initial interviews.
"I am extremely concerned that the 14 alleged pirates were sent back to Sri Lanka without having the benefit of any independent legal advice," coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said.
"This is similar to the situation with the Sri Lankans who have been removed from detention in Australia and Nauru without the opportunity of legal advice.
"There is every reason to believe they would have legitimate claims for protection and every reason to doubt that could get a fair trial in Sri Lanka."
Mr Rintoul said he held concerns for the remaining Sri Lankan and his organisation wanted to help him.
An Immigration Department spokesman was unable to say why the 15th Sri Lankan did not go with them, or whether he tried to claim asylum. It is thought he was flown from the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to Christmas Island on Saturday, about the same time his travelling companions were returned to Sri Lanka.
The Immigration Department returned a total of 29 Sri Lankans to Colombo at the weekend as more boats arrived -- 35 people assisted near Ashmore Islands were delivered to Christmas Island, as was a boat carrying six people detected near the Australian territory. Yesterday at Cocos (Keeling) Islands, 62 boatpeople were brought ashore.
Late yesterday, the Immigration Department was expecting more boat arrivals at Flying Fish Cove.
The department also sought to ease pressure on detention facilities on Christmas Island by moving several family groups to Darwin. An Immigration Department spokesman was unable to say yesterday whether the families stayed there, or were transferred on to somewhere else.
Those asylum-seekers arrived after August 13 and are therefore eligible to be sent to Nauru, although the Immigration Department has repeatedly said decisions about who goes there will be made on a case-by-case basis and for operational reasons.
The 14 people who travelled to the tiny Australian atolls of Cocos (Keeling) Islands onboard the Chejan multi-day were returned on a chartered long-range jet by Australian Federal Police after discussions between the Australian and Sri Lankan governments.
A Sri Lankan official has said they face a range of charges including attempted murder, abduction and theft, according to Sri Lankan authorities, who say the boat was taken by force on October 14. (The Australian)