The Australian Government has handed over 41 potential asylum seekers to Sri Lankan authorities near the Port of Batticaloa.
The illegal maritime arrivals, including 37 Sinhalese and four Tamil Sri Lankan nationals, were shifted from a Border Protection Command (BPC)-assigned vessel to a Sri Lankan vessel yesterday.
The BPC West of Cocos (Keeling) Islands intercepted the suspected illegal entry vessel last month.
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison said in a statement that all persons intercepted and returned were subjected to enhanced screening process, to ensure compliance with Australia’s international obligations.
“This process includes identifying any person who may need to be referred to a further determination process,” Morrison said.
“In such cases, the government’s policy is to transfer such persons to either Papua New Guinea or Nauru for offshore processing.”
The latest move comes after the return of 79 illegal maritime arrivals to Sri Lanka under Operation Sovereign Borders last year.
Australia has been taking strict actions on asylum seekers trying to reach the country. It has also been facing criticism for practising a culture of secrecy around asylum and not commenting on its operations, reported the BBC.
The government is also being questioned over its offshore processing policy; however, Australia says that its asylum policy is aimed at saving lives.
“The Australian Government will continue to act in accordance with our international obligations, including applicable international conventions and to protect the safety of life at sea,” Morrison added.
“At the same time we will not allow people smugglers to try and exploit and manipulate Australia’s support of these conventions as a tool to undermine Australia’s strong border protection regime that is stopping the boats and the deaths at sea.”