An Australian navy boat (left) shadowing a boat believed to be carrying asylum seekers in July 2012. Photograph: BASARNAS/AFP/Getty Images
Tuesday 5 May 2015 15.42 AEST
Australian government has a policy of returning asylum seeker vessels directly, and has previously done so with Sri Lankans
Australia acted with the Vietnamese government to return 46 asylum seekers who were intercepted at sea, the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, has revealed.
The Australian government has adopted a policy of returning asylum seeker vessels directly, and has previously done so with Sri Lankans. The policy is implemented in secrecy, and the government has refused to discuss “on water” matters relating to its asylum policy.
Dutton confirmed for the first time the operation that was reported in April to turn back an asylum seeker vessel directly to Vietnam.
In the monthly Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) statement, Dutton said: “The 46 people were able to be safely returned to Vietnam after we were assured that they did not have a claim to protection and that we had met our international obligations.
“This would have not been possible without the assistance of the Vietnamese government.”
It is not clear what procedure was used to assess the asylum seekers. Previously the government has used a controversial form of fast-track processing known as “enhanced screening” to quickly decide whether people are likely to engage Australia’s obligations under international law.
But the process has been heavily criticised. A former immigration department official, Greg Lake, has called it a dangerous method that could have seen legitimate refugees returned to persecution.
The OSB update also revealed no further people had been transferred back to Manus Island or Nauru.
Lawyers are preparing to take action if asylum seekers with medical conditions who have been brought to the mainland from offshore detention centres are returned to the regional processing centres.
There are 971 asylum seekers on Manus Island and 677 on Nauru.
First published on The Guardian website, 05/05/2015