Australian Navy returns 46 asylum seekers to Vietnam after intercepting group en route to Australia


Immigration Minister Peter Dutton addresses the media
PHOTO: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has refused to comment, citing ‘operational matters’

AM By political editor Chris Uhlmann and Peta Donald
Updated 20 Apr 2015, 8:32pm

RELATED STORY: Government quiet over reports Navy seeking to return asylum seekers

The Australian Navy has returned 46 asylum seekers to Vietnam after they were intercepted trying to reach Australia by boat.

The ABC confirmed HMAS Choules completed its mission to transfer the group back to Vietnam and was now en route to Australia.

Another source told the ABC the 46 asylum seekers were off-loaded in the port city of Vung Tau on Friday.

The asylum seekers were believed to have left Vietnam in March and were detected by the Navy earlier this month before they could reach Australia.

Earlier, the Opposition accused the Federal Government of a “new low” over secrecy surrounding the group of asylum seekers.

The Government refused to comment on reports the Navy supply ship returned the asylum seekers to Vietnam.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he would not comment on operational matters.

“Like we don’t comment on military involvement where lives are at risk, we provide information where it’s possible to do so post the event. I don’t provide a running commentary on these matters, that has been a longstanding practice,” he said.

Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles said he believed Australia may have breached international law.

“We need to hear from this Government now exactly what assessment of these individuals has taken place,” he said.

“We need to have a guarantee from our Government today that every one of those people was individually assessed and that none of them require further investigation as to whether or not they are a genuine refugee.

“And we need to know and have confidence that this Government has not refouled people against the obligations of the UN convention.”

Case represents new low in Government secrecy: Opposition

Mr Marles accused Mr Dutton of being even more secretive than the Government was last year, when it returned a group of Tamil asylum seekers at sea.

“There was at least some indication from the Government about what assessment process had been undertaken,” he said.

“This actually represents a new low in the secrecy of this Government in terms of how it’s handling the question of asylum seekers, and that is utterly inappropriate.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Australian taxpayers deserved to know what had been going on.

“It cost more than $1.5 million to send this group of asylum seekers back to Vietnam,” she said.

“The Australian people have a right to know whether it was indeed legal.”

Senator Hanson-Young said she was not convinced lives were being saved by the Government’s policy to “turn back the boats”.

“We may not see the drowning, we may not see the gravestones, but that’s simply because we’ve pushed it elsewhere,” she said.

Refugee advocacy group VOICE Australia said it was concerned for the refugees’ safety and would send someone to investigate.

“The Facebook message said that the Vietnamese asylum seekers had been taken back to the Bung Tow province and they had been taken into Vietnam by the Vietnamese authorities,” said Trung Doan, a Vietnamese-Australian refugee advocate.

“I hope that my friend can also go to the local detention centre to speak to locals near the local detention centre and hear what they have to say.”

He said he was not surprised to hear of asylum seekers fleeing Vietnam, and had heard the stories of some who had already made it to Australia.

“One was [fleeing] because he was involved in a church group,” Mr Doan said.

“Another was because they protested against officials confiscating their land.

“And then another, who hasn’t got to Australia yet … [is] a blogger who tried to blog about democracy, and had to flee Vietnam but hasn’t got to Australia.

“They are hiding in Thailand at the moment.”

First published on ABC, 20/04/2015