(Vatican Radio) Australia's government confirmed on Monday that it had handed over a boatload of asylum seekers to Sri Lankan authorities in a transfer at sea.
Listen to Vatican Radio’s report:
The 41 Sri Lankans were intercepted by Australia's border patrol off the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean in late June. They were handed over to the Sri Lankan government on Sunday after their refugee claims were assessed at sea and rejected. Critics claim the asylum seeks, some of whom are members of the nation’s Tamil minority, could face persecution in Sri Lanka.
“Four out of the 41 were Tamils and they were all screened in terms of any potential protection obligation, and none were found to be owed that protection,” Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told Australia’s Macquarie Radio.
In a bid to stem a rising tide of asylum seekers trying to reach Australian shores, the nation's government implemented a policy of turning back their boats, as opposed to letting them land on Australian soil. Until Sunday, the vessels have been returned to Indonesia, where most of the boats originate.
Christine Milne, the leader of the Green Party in the Australian government, said the transfer violated humanitarian rules.
“There's absolutely no way that the Government has made any kind of serious assessment of the claim for asylum for people who they have intercepted,” she said. “ You can't just ask four questions over the phone at sea and expect anyone to believe that that is a credible assessment.”
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, to issue a statement last week expressing ``profound concern'' that Australia was processing asylum seekers at sea rather than bringing them ashore to assess their claims, adding that international law “prescribes that no individual can be returned involuntarily to a country in which he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution.”