The 157 illegal maritime arrivals (IMAs) who were transferred to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection facilities in Curtin earlier this week have been transferred to Nauru overnight for offshore processing, the Australian government said.
They were transferred following their decision to refuse to meet with Indian consular officials, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison said today.
The Australian High Commission in Colombo in a statement said:
The Australian Government created a rare opportunity with the Government of India for many of the 157 people who were on that voyage from India, including up to 50 children, to go back to where they had been living in safety in India, where they have family and friends, rather than go to Nauru.
It is very disappointing that after having had access to their legal representatives on July 29, all 157 IMAs coincidentally chose not to talk to Indian consular officials.
Legal representation for this group is not being funded by the taxpayer.
Accordingly, arrangements were made to transfer all 157 IMAs detained at Curtin to Nauru at the first available opportunity for offshore processing, consistent with Government policy under Operation Sovereign Borders. These transfers were undertaken overnight on three separate flights and all 157 IMA's have now arrived in Nauru.
This decision means that those IMAs who were previously living in India will now be unable to take advantage of the humanitarian offer being made by the Indian Government, secured by my visit to New Delhi last week, that would have potentially enabled their return to India.
There will also now be around 50 more children on Nauru, many of which, if not all, could have been going back to India.
It is disappointing that this opportunity has been squandered. If these decisions were taken on the advice of lawyers, then not only have the passengers on this voyage been duped by people smugglers, it would seem they have also been let down by those who are supposed to be looking after their best interests as well and claim to be on their side.
There were only over ever two options for this group of IMAs - either return to India or be sent to Nauru for offshore processing. Processing and resettlement in Australia was never an option. The Government was clear about this, provided the options and have taken action accordingly.
The Government has been working to a clear plan in relation to this voyage from India from the day it was first detected by Border Protection Command. We have been methodically working our process, which has today resulted in all 157 IMA's now being on Nauru where they will remain.
At all times the Government has also honoured and acted in accordance with all undertakings to the High Court related to the movement and transfer of these 157 IMAs, in parallel proceedings before the Court.
Should these IMAs be found to be a refugees they will be resettled on Nauru, not Australia. If they are not found to be a refugee they will go back to Sri Lanka, not India. Going back to India, where they are likely to have family and friends, is no longer an option for those who were living there. They passed up that option when they chose not to meet with Indian consular officials in Australia. This is regrettable and very disappointing.
The result of this venture means that, unfortunately, the arrangement with India has now come to an end. Despite the risk that advocates or IMAs would seek to frustrate the initiative by not cooperating, the Government does not regret pursuing this option with the Government of India and thanks them for their cooperation. We always seek to do things cooperatively wherever possible.
In the event of similar ventures in the future the Government will consider all options that meet our policy objectives, serve our national interest and are consistent with our domestic and international obligations.
The Abbott Government will always do all within our powers to prevent people smuggling ventures getting to Australia. There has been just one such venture in more than seven months. That is in stark contrast to the more than two hundred that occurred under Labor over the same time period last year.