Written by Bella Dalima
03 Jul, 2014 | 7:25 pm
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said that it is no secret that the Australian government is turning back boats on the high seas.
In an interview with an Australian Radio Station, when questioned about reports that Australia had handed over a boat carrying 153 asylum-seekers to the Sri Lanka Navy, Abbott noted that turning back boats is one of the policy options that the Australian government reserves the right to use and added that Sri Lanka is a peaceful society.
The Australian Prime Minister, spoke to 3AW radio on Thursday morning, following international scrutiny over the secrecy observed by the Liberal National coalition government, with regard to reports of a boat carrying 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers.
Meanwhile, Sarah Whyte, Immigration Correspondent at the Sydney Morning Herald, joined us on our prime time news last evening.
She expressed the following views:
So today we heard from Tony Abott for the first time on the boats. He refused to say whether they exist but he did say that Sri Lanka is a very “peaceful country” which made us think perhaps that the Sri Lankan Navy is going to intercept these boats and take the asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka. It has been confirmed to us that they are going to take over the asylum seeker boats the boats where the asylum seekers being held, Australian customs boats. Our Indian correspondent he has gone through talking to people and they have said “yes, there about 40 refugees, who have gone missing from a particular camp in Tamil Nadu. Second boat, we now know left Sri Lanka and 50 people on board and that the one that is intercepted by the Australian Navy.[/quote]
Meanwhile, Human Rights Lawyers have been very vocal on the issue.
Human Rights Lawyer, Julian Burnside, speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, said Australia would be breaching its central obligation under the refugee convention if the asylum seekers are handed over to the Sri Lanka Navy.
An expert in international law, Donald Rothwell, told The Telegraph that a transfer of Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka would be a flagrant breach of the United Nations refugee convention.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, an asylum-seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated.
Those judged through proper procedures not to be refugees, nor to be in need of any other form of international protection, can be sent back to their home countries.
News1st secured a statement from the UNHCR’s regional office for Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, on this matter.
The statement notes that, the UN Refugee Agency has followed with great concern reports in the media and from the community in relation to the interception at sea of individuals who may be seeking Australia’s protection.
The UNHCR notes that when boats presumed to be carrying asylum seekers are intercepted, the agency’s position is that requests for international protection should be considered within the territory of the intercepting state, consistent with fundamental refugee protection principles.
The statement notes 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.
Although a distress call supposedly made from onboard the missing asylum seeker boat claimed, that they had embarked from India, Indian coast guard and marine police authorities say that such a boat did not originate from Pondicherry.
Australian authorities have maintained silence on the matter with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison refusing to comment; maintaining that the government does not comment on ”speculation or reporting” regarding on water operations.
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