Australia denies SL asylum seekers were ill-treated

2014-07-09 09:49:49

Australia on Wednesday rejected allegations by Sri Lankan refugees returned to the island nation that they were mistreated and said their return sent a strong message to those thinking of following suit.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was speaking in Colombo a day after several asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka by Australia said they were badly treated before being handed over to the Sri Lankan navy.

Some of the people on the boat of 37 Sinhalese and four Tamils said they were ill treated by Australian Customs officials who had infringed on their human rights.

"I find those allegations offensive and reject them absolutely," Morrison told reporters after handing over two patrol boats to Sri Lanka to strengthen surveillance of people smuggling.

"Any venture ... that thinks they can get to Australia, well I think a very clear message is being said particularly in the last few days that that venture will not prevail."

Sri Lanka says many asylum seekers are economic migrants, but rights groups say Tamils seek asylum to prevent torture, rape and other violence at the hands of the military.

Australia's hardline asylum seeker policies are facing growing international scrutiny.

A group of 103 Sri Lankan asylum seekers remains stranded in legal limbo on the high seas as Australia's High Court considers the legality of the interception of their boat.

Another 41 asylum seekers picked up from a separate boat were handed over by Australia to Sri Lanka in a secret operation over the weekend.

Morrison rejected claims that Australia had breached international conventions by handing over the Sri Lankans.

"The Australian government takes very seriously our responsibility as well as the Sri Lankan government people's safety and the various obligations that they have under the various conventions to which we are signatories," he said. (Reuters)

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