refugee centreThe federal government faces mounting criticism for its handling of a group of Tamil asylum seekers, now in detention at Nauru.

It is the latest stop for the 157 people, including some 50 children, who are the subject of a high court case and have been on a “wretched rollercoaster” ride, Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, said.

Held at sea for three weeks on board a customs vessel, the asylum seekers were transferred last Sunday to Western Australia’s Curtin detention centre.

But the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said the group refused to speak with Indian officials, in a move he described as disappointing. He said the group was flown to Nauru overnight Friday.

One of the planes arrived at around noon on Saturday. Eyewitness sources told Guardian Australia that many of the Tamil men had rips in their shirts after they were forcibly put on the plane.”

“They were traumatised,” said a Nauru source.

Contractors are understood to have expressed concerns that there is not enough space to house them all on Nauru.

It is understood that the asylum seekers will be processed in the OPC1 camp – which does not hold families. It is likely they will then be moved to the family camp.

“This is Morrison’s merry-go-round,” Marles said on Saturday. The group should have been taken straight to Christmas Island but instead the government spruiked an agreement struck with India, he said.

Under the deal Indian consular officials would interview the asylum seekers at Curtin with the intention of taking back its residents.

But Morrison said when they refused to speak with officials the deal was off.

The refusal to talk to officials “coincidentally” came after asylum seekers met with their lawyers.

“Not only have the passengers been duped by people smugglers, they have also been let down by those who are supposed to be looking after their best interests,” Morrison said, indicating they had “squandered” the chance of a positive outcome.

But lawyer acting for the Tamils, George Newhouse, denied he or his colleagues had advised the group not to meet with the Indian officials and knew nothing of the Friday night transfer to Nauru until he was alerted by media.

“We have not had a proper opportunity to inform our clients of their rights and their options because of the secrecy surrounding them,” Newhouse said

The group will undergo processing at Nauru, a facility which has come under scrutiny from the Human Rights Commission and which Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said was unsuitable for children.

“They are being used as political pawns in a desperate game for the minister to look tough,” Hanson-Young said in Adelaide.

A number of asylum seekers detained in the family camp on Nauru have begun peaceful protests over conditions at the centre. Nauru sources said on Saturday that three Somali women had self-harmed on Friday night as part of the protests.

Amnesty International Australia condemned the transfer to Nauru and said the move violated the United Nations Refugee Convention by refusing to provide the opportunity to claim asylum and seek protection.

The Human Rights Law Centre described the three overnight flights ferrying the Tamils to Nauru as secretive.

“It highlights the government’s deception, secrecy and willingness to undermine the rule of law in Australia,” a centre spokesman said.

But Morrison and the prime minister, Tony Abbott, insisted the government’s move was safe and in line with Australia’s legal obligations.

Abbott hit out at refugee advocacy groups, some members of the Labor party and the Greens.

“I’m sure they’re not doing it deliberately but unwittingly they are giving aid and comfort to the people smugglers … to a trade in death,” he said. The kindest humanitarian thing to do is to work to stop the boats, Abbott added.

If successful in their bid for asylum, members of the Tamil group will be settled at Nauru and if unsuccessful, they will be taken to Sri Lanka. (The Guardian)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *