Major General Andrew Bottrell gives evidence at a Senate hearing on Monday. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian
Forty-six migrants offloaded at port in April on one of 18 vessels prevented from reaching Australia since Operation Sovereign Borders began, hearing told
A boat carrying 46 Vietnamese asylum seekers was returned to Vietnam on 18 April, the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Major General Andrew Bottrell, confirmed in a Senate estimates hearing on Monday.
Bottrell said that the asylum seekers were given individual interviews at sea that lasted between 40 minutes and two hours. Immigration department secretary told a Senate committee that the interviews were long enough to ensure that none of the asylum seekers’ claims met Australia’s protection obligations.
It is understood the asylum seekers were offloaded by an Australian navy vessel in the port city of Vũng Tàu, after leaving Vietnam for Australia in March.
It is one of 18 asylum-seeker boats that have been prevented from reaching Australia since Operation Sovereign Borders began.
Another boat was the subject of a “turn-back” that was completed on 22 March. Details of the number of asylum seekers aboard the vessel have not been revealed.
Bottrell confirmed a total of 18 asylum-seeker boats had been prevented from reaching Australia since September 2013, when the Abbott government introduced Operation Sovereign Borders to tackle the people-smuggling trade.
However, he refused to release further details, saying he would be maintaining the secrecy surrounding the operation that the government said was needed to ensure the integrity of missions.
“While I’m acutely aware of the interest surrounding the release of information, the success of Operation Sovereign Borders has been in part due to the denial of operational information from people smugglers,” Bottrell said.
Bottrell said people smugglers were still actively trying to sell passage to Australia.
“Despite the results achieved under Operation Sovereign Borders to date, people smugglers continue to try to take advantage of vulnerable people by convincing them to get on boats to Australia,” he said.
First published on The Guardian website, 25/05/2015