Tony Abbott defends turning back of SL asylum seeker boats

8 July 2014 05:01 am - 8     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended Australia's policy of turning back asylum seeker boats after the High Court granted an interim injunction to prevent the government handing 153 asylum seekers to the Sri Lankan authorities.

On Tuesday, Mr Abbott said what his government does at sea is in line with its international obligations and safety protocols.

He also took a swipe at Opposition and Greens 'activists', accusing them of trying to disrupt the Government's policies.

'The person who brought this injunction is a former Labor candidate,' he told the Seven Network, referring to George Newhouse, who was among the group of barristers who brought the claim before the High Court.

The Prime Minister added: 'What I'm focused on is stopping the boats. That is what we are absolutely and constantly focused on, because as long as the boats keeping coming, we will keep having deaths at sea.

'So the most decent, humane and compassionate thing you can do is to stop the boats.'

The United Nations has criticised Australia's decision to return 41 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, as the High Court considers the future of 153 others who could face the same fate.

But Mr Abbott dodged questions about the asylum seeker group and the court's decision.

'I'm just not going to comment at all on operational matters,' he told the Seven Network.

'Any commentary by government members about operational matters just gives aid and comfort to the people smugglers.'

This comes as the father of a three-year-old girl named Febrina, who is among 37 children in the group of 153, has appealed for the government to protect his daughter.

It is claimed that Febrina was travelling on a vessel which left the Indian city of Pondicherry on June 13. There has been no word from the boat since June 28.

Speaking to the Tamil Refugee Council, the unidentified man appealed directly to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison for information

'I am desperate to know where my family is. I can’t function at all not knowing. I know all of them would be in very big trouble if sent back to Sri Lanka,' he said.

'I want to plead with the Australian minister to stop our pain and let us know what he has done with all the kids and families on the boat. I ask him to be kind to these people. They are all very frightened.

'They cannot be sent back to Sri Lanka. Many of them will be tortured again and even killed.'

The man wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

'I cannot understand why a country like Australia would send people back to Sri Lanka, knowing they have been tortured there. Why would they do it?' he said.

An image believed to be his daughter has appeared on the Tamil Fightback website. It was impossible to verify if the girl in the picture was on the refugee ship.

A late sitting of the High Court in Sydney on Monday barred the return of the 153 asylum seekers, 48 of whom are Tamil, until 4pm Tuesday or further order of the court. Their case will be heard at the High Court in Melbourne at  2pm today.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the government's actions at sea saying the government had met its international obligations.

But he said he was not going to comment on 'operational matters'.

'Any commentary by government members about operational matters just gives aid and comfort to the people smugglers,' he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also criticised Australia's decision to return the 41 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, saying it doubted the government's brief interviews on board the boat to assess refugee claims complied with international law.

The agency said its experience with shipboard processing has generally not been positive.

'Such an environment would rarely afford an appropriate venue for a fair procedure,' it said in a statement.

Amid reports that 41 Tamils from another boat of asylum seekers were facing criminal charges following their handover to Sri Lankan police, lawyer George Newhouse says the 153 asylum seekers are 'entitled to have their claims for protection processed in accordance with Australian law'.

'The [immigration] minister cannot simply intercept their vessel in the middle of the night and "disappear' them,"' Mr Newhouse told AAP on Monday night.

'The asylum seekers claim that they are fleeing persecution and that they're at risk of death, torture or significant harm at the hands of Sri Lankan authorities,' Mr Newhouse said. '[There's] a need for ongoing protection.'

Forty-one Sri Lankan asylum seekers from a second boat already returned by the Australian authorities reportedly face jail despite assurances from the Abbott government they were in no danger of persecution.

But Mr Newhouse argues there are serious concerns for the safety of the asylum seekers if they are handed over, and is worried they will also be charged and potentially jailed.

'In Sri Lankan jails, detainees are often subjected to torture and sometimes they never reappear,' he said.

'We're talking about a boat load of women and children, and I would have thought that the minister needs to think very clearly before he sends them into Sri Lankan jail.'

The group already handed over will face court in the port of Galle at an unspecified date, charged under the Immigrants and Emigrants Act, a Sri Lankan police spokesman reportedly said.

The asylum seekers were transferred in mild sea conditions off the coast of Sri Lanka after the boat was stopped west of the Cocos Islands in late June.

'The sentence for those who are proved to have left illegally is two years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine,' the spokesman said, according to Reuters.

The Australian government says none of the Tamils, who were screened via video link, are in danger of persecution.

'All were screened in terms of any potential protection obligation and none were found to be owed that protection,' Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.

Refugee lawyer David Manne said it was difficult to track the fate of returned asylum seekers.

'This is part of the problem that we've seen in Sri Lanka, with people being essentially summarily expelled there without proper due process,' he told ABC TV.

Opposition frontbencher Penny Wong says Labor has 'serious concerns' about the treatment of the asylum seekers.Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the government seems to believe it is 'above the law'.

'The Australian people are becoming sick and tired of the spin, the secrecy, and the danger we're putting these people's lives in.'

The court's injunction ends at 4pm on Tuesday unless it makes an order to extend it.

  Comments - 8

  • ABC Tuesday, 08 July 2014 11:12 AM

    Seems like there is a big business of human smuggling under the name of asylum seeking. Very clear that some LTTE frontiers are taking the lead. Thank you Australia. via DM Android App

    Inthikab Tuesday, 08 July 2014 11:43 AM

    The ultimate irony - the so called asylum seekers funded by the so called ltte areMostly Sinhalese men and women

    Thanka Tuesday, 08 July 2014 06:24 AM

    All but four are from majority community of SL.

    So you are right Rubert!

    Azee Wednesday, 09 July 2014 07:26 AM

    OMG- the asylum seekers are mostly Sinhalese via DM Android App

    AJ SYDNEY Tuesday, 08 July 2014 10:46 AM

    Abbott is another Rajapaksa for tamils. So Austrlaian tamils and human right activitist should wake up. The funny issues, srilanakan tamils does not like these people here .

    Avan Perera Wednesday, 09 July 2014 11:22 AM

    37 out of the latest 41 persons caught are Sinhalese ! So there ! What has the

    The Logic Tuesday, 08 July 2014 05:29 AM

    Do not tax yourself. The UN will decide if what you did was within international standards. Life is above all. How much do you get payed for this action?

    Rubert Vanderkoon Tuesday, 08 July 2014 05:29 AM

    A man with a backbone Tony Abbott is. These people smugglers must be turned back or even capsize because they betray the country. Economic asylum, I will support too.

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