Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has defended the Abbott government’s asylum seeker policy after the United Nations said it was “profoundly concerned” by reports on the treatment of Tamil asylum seekers.
“Australia abides by its international obligations and will continue to do so, but we will also restore our border protection laws to ensure that people do not die at sea,” Minister Bishop told the ABC.
“There is nothing humanitarian about encouraging the people smuggling trade to put people on unseaworthy boats.”
The United Nations’ refugee agency has expressed “profound concern” about reports that refugees seeking Australia’s protection are being intercepted and processed at sea.
The Abbott government has refused to confirm or deny Tamil asylum seekers were intercepted trying to reach Australia by boat and reportedly have been or would be sent back to Sri Lanka.
There are also reports that Australia is screening the Tamil asylum seekers at sea via video link, and some will be handed into Sri Lankan custody, also at sea, after being asked just four basic questions.
In a statement on its website, the UNHCR says it has no official confirmation of such reports, but warned of the international protocols and obligations for “the territory of the intercepting state”.
“UNHCR has followed with profound concern recent reports in the media and from the community in relation to the interception at sea of individuals who may be seeking Australia’s protection,” it said.
“When boats presumed to be carrying asylum-seekers are intercepted, UNHCR’s position is that requests for international protection should be considered within the territory of the intercepting state, consistent with fundamental refugee principles.”
It said individuals seeking asylum must be properly and individually screened for protection needs, in a process they understand and in which they are able to explain their needs.
The statement said under international law, no individual could be returned involuntarily to a country in which he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution.
Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, on Thursday played down claims of ongoing human rights abuses, saying those who are returned to Sri Lanka would face the magistrates court and be released on bail.
“If there is criminal evidence of such people, they would be punished and put through the normal process,” Admiral Samarasinghe told Sky News.
But the Tamil Refugee Council accused the Australian government of not just ignoring human rights abuses but becoming an eager facilitator.(SBS)
And Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, demanded the government come clean with the Australian people.