Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has received a lashing for his handling of the issue from all sides of government, including former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who said the return of asylum seekers at sea was similar to how Jews were treated by the Nazis back in the 1930s.
The news has also outraged Labor frontbencher Penny Wong who has hit out at Mr Morrison’s ‘brief statement’ which confirmed asylum seekers had been intercepted back in June, and now some where being returned back to Sri Lanka.
‘Australians also expect that their government complies with what are ethical and legal obligations, which are not to return people to the risk of persecution,’ she told ABC radio.
Mr Morrison said 41 asylum seekers, of Sinhalese and Tamil background, were transferred to Sri Lankan authorities in mild sea conditions just outside the Port of Batticaloa, off the coast of Sri Lanka.
He is yet to comment on the status of another boat of asylum seekers, said to be carrying about 150 asylum seekers, which was reportedly intercepted by Australian authorities around a week ago at Cocos Islands near Christmas Island.
Mr Morrison said of the 41 returned on Sunday: ‘All persons intercepted and returned were subjected to an enhanced screening process, as also practiced by the previous government, to ensure compliance by Australia with our international obligations under relevant conventions,” Mr Morrison said in a statement on Monday.
But according to many, the Sri Lankans could face torture, rape and even death once they are returned home.
Australian Greens leader Christine Milne also said the Government’s actions were against international law and decency. ‘It’s absolutely appalling,’ she told reporters.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon says he is ‘uneasy’ with the Government’s actions and wants the returned Sri Lankans monitored to ensure they do not come to any harm.
Mr Morrison has not indicated how the asylum seekers will be treated once they return.
The transfer comes after 203 Sri Lankan asylum seekers were reportedly believed to be intercepted by Australian authorities in late June.
Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was scathing of the government, saying handing asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka at sea was redolent of handing Jews over to the Nazis in the 1930s.
Mr Morrison said of those transferred on Sunday, 37 were Sinhalese and only four were Tamil. (Daily Mail)