Australia sends asylum-seekers back to India on lifeboats

Sydney - Asylum-seekers held on an Australian customs vessel at sea for weeks were given lifeboats and told to make their own way back to India, a lawyer for the group said on Monday.

The boatload of 157, who lawyer Hugh de Kretser said were mostly Christian Tamils fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka, set sail from India hoping to get to Australia.

"The clients we spoke to were absolutely terrified at what lay ahead for them," said de Kretser, who is executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

"They were terrified of the prospect of being dumped in the ocean on lifeboats, without experience in navigating or operating a boat and having to take responsibility for the families that were on the boat."

The group, which includes 50 children, were picked up by Australian authorities towards the end of June.

They spent weeks on a customs boat, mostly locked in windowless rooms, before they were taken to Australia around 25 July, their lawyers say.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who claims they are mostly economic migrants, said they could be returned to India - even if not citizens of that country - under an agreement with New Delhi.

But all refused interviews with Indian consular officials on Australian soil and were instead transferred to a detention camp on the Pacific island of Nauru.

De Kretser said that after interviews with 15 of the 107 adults onboard, it appeared nine of them were separated from the others while they were still on the customs vessel and told how to use the lifeboats.

They were instructed in English that there would be 50 to 60 people on each boat and they would have to navigate them back to India.

"When they refused, saying they had no experience in operating or navigating a boat, and couldn't take responsibility for ensuring the safety of those onboard, the officers told them that it was an Australian government decision and they had to obey," he said.

De Kretser claimed access to the group had been extremely limited, but said some told him they had been living in India for less than six months when they made the voyage.

He said they had spoken of a precarious existence in India, where they were unable to work and their children could not attend school, while some had fears about their safety.

"These 157 men, women and children have been subjected to a level of cruelty that has no place in modern Australia," he said.

Under Australia's hard-line policy for asylum-seekers, designed to prevent deaths at sea, those arriving by boat are sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru and denied resettlement in Australia even if found to be genuine refugees.

Canberra also has a policy of turning boats back when it is safe to do so, while asylum-seekers coming ashore in Indonesia have claimed Australian authorities put them on lifeboats and turned them back.

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Lionel Kritzinger 2014/08/04 10:03:15 AM
good on Australia. These people enter the country and before you know it they are demanding and causing anarchy. Crime increases etc.
Susan Venter 2014/08/04 10:09:07 AM
I'm appalled at the comments!! Yes, Australia has the right to deny these people entry into the country, but surely there is a more humane way!! Those poor people fled because they feared for their lives, and what about those poor children?! What happened to helping others in need??
Rameez Mookadan 2014/08/04 10:11:27 AM
Sis Australia.
Brooklax Mpundus 2014/08/04 10:15:58 AM
They should have sent them towards Antarctica !
dtangocci 2014/08/04 10:18:55 AM
Nin Ja Kitty 2014/08/04 10:38:25 AM
It is a harsh thing, but as has rightly been said, why should asylum seekers become another country's problem. Pity them if you feel you must, but looking closer to home, what has happened here, they pull in by the truck loads and we are left to handle the aftermath... forever and a day.
brettinlux 2014/08/04 10:53:00 AM
I have just spent 10 days in a country where migrants and asylum-seekers have taken over.They walk around with 4-6 children and live off the State.A once safe area is now like Hillbrow and a no go area for tourists.Great on Australia for protecting it's interests.
Greg Bremner 2014/08/04 10:58:12 AM
Well done Ausies. Dont listen to the weak A-holes of society calling for "human rights", when it does not affect them.
Ndlovu Bigone 2014/08/04 11:00:52 AM
Good on you mate
Claire Rees645 2014/08/04 11:13:41 AM
Good idea send them back to where they came from!