The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says she will visit Curtin detention centre in Western Australia to ensure asylum seekers transferred from the boat intercepted in the Indian Ocean are aware of their rights.
“I’ll try to get to Curtin in the next few days to see how the children are faring and ensure the asylum seekers understand they do have legal rights,” she told a media conference on Sunday.
She said the 157 Tamil asylum seekers held on board an Australian customs vessel for nearly a month were being used as political footballs by the federal government, which she accused of trading in people’s lives.
The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said on Friday the group would be brought to Australia and would be interviewed by Indian officials. Guardian Australia understands they were landed in the Cocos Islands on Sunday and were being transferred to Curtin, south of Derby, by plane.
Hanson-Young said she had serious concerns about the legality of involving Indian authorities.
“I’ve got serious concerns with the legality and legitimacy of the government’s arrangement to allow Indian consulate officials into Curtin detention centre to interview asylum seekers to be brought there in the next few hours,” she said.
“There is no legal basis, allowing India to question and interview the people who are going to be detained now that they are on Australian soil, and it is clear they have legal right to apply for asylum here.
“What’s next? Will we allow the Sri Lankan government to come in and interview the Tamils? Would we go so far as to allow Isis to interrogate those who have fled Iraq?
Hanson-Young’s comments were echoed by Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek. She told ABC TV’s Insiders on Sunday that asylum seekers on the mainland should be dealt with by Australian, not Indian, authorities.
“The whole handling of this has not been appropriate. These people have been floating around on the ocean for three weeks. They could have been processed on Christmas Island weeks ago, and the only thing that stopped that was Scott Morrison’s ego.
“I can’t tell you how these people will be processed, the government has not made that clear. We don’t have any details and it’s exactly the sort of details and it’s exactly the sort of thing you should ask Scott Morrison if you can get him to turn up to a press conference and answer some questions.”
Hanson-Young said she was particularly concerned for children who had been aboard the vessel.
“We know that we need to start ensuring that people coming off this boat are given the right medical assistance and that the children’s welfare is looked after,” she said.
“They’ve been sick on this boat, we know that a month ago they [the asylum seekers] said the children on board were sick and needed medical help. My immediate concern is that those children get everything they need.”
She said the government was trying to find a way to send the asylum seekers back to danger, even though under international refugee conventions they had a right to apply for asylum.
“I don’t want to see Tamil refugees sent back into the hands of those they have fled,” she said.
“These people have a right to apply for asylum in Australia … Just because Tony Abbott wants to trade in their lives, it doesn’t make it legal.”
The Human Rights Commission president, Gillian Triggs, told Guardian Australia she was pleased the asylum seekers were being brought to the mainland.
“But the grave concern we’ve got is the consequence that Indian official interviews may be returning people to a country from which they are fleeing,” she said.
“It seems pretty clear now that Indian officials will be conducting those interviews.”
She called on the government to clarify what was happening with the 157 asylum seekers, saying it was unclear whether they even wanted Australian asylum.
“What we want is a government press release saying what is going on.
“We’re in almost daily connection with government officials and we are concerned by the lack of information on asylum seekers generally, and particularly with regards to these 157.
“All we know is they’ve been on a ship for several weeks and have been intercepted by Australian patrol boats.
“There’s a long way to go to us knowing the full story.”(The Guardian)