A decision by a group of Sri Lankan men to return home rather than enter a detention centre in Nauru raises questions about past claims for asylum from the war-torn nation, Australia’s deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop says.
Eighteen Sri Lankan men left Christmas Island for Colombo on Saturday after asking to return home instead of being sent to the Pacific island for the processing of their asylum seeker claims.
They were the first group to opt for a return journey since the federal government reopened the Nauru centre earlier this month.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it marked an important step in deterring people-smuggling.
But Ms Bishop said it called into question the government’s processing of asylum applications from Sri Lanka since the civil war there ended three years ago.
“It does call into question the processing of applications over the last three years,” Ms Bishop told ABC TV on Sunday.
“They would have been provided with a safe haven in Nauru... and they chose to return to Sri Lanka.”
She said it vindicated the coalition’s stance on border protection, repeating calls for the Gillard government to bolster its asylum policy by introducing temporary protection visas (TPVs) and turning back boats where it’s safe to do so.
Ms Bishop said TPVs, which extend protection to a person until it’s safe for them to return home, would have been “ideal” for assessing asylum claims from Sri Lanka.
Under domestic and international law, it is legal for people to seek asylum in Australia.
Meanwhile, HMAS Broome intercepted another suspected asylum seeker vessel - with 66 passengers and two crew on board - north of Christmas Island on Saturday afternoon.(AAP)