Government quiet over reports Navy seeking to return Vietnamese asylum seekers

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Updated 17 Apr 2015, 6:20pm

The Federal Government is refusing to confirm reports that the Navy is attempting to return a large group of asylum seekers to Vietnam.

The West Australian newspaper reported a boat with about 50 Vietnamese asylum seekers on board was intercepted by HMAS Choules earlier this month.

The newspaper estimated the cost of returning the asylum seekers could reach $1.4 million, adding that it was not known if they had already been transferred to local authorities.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the Government did not comment on operational matters.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Kevin Andrews referred all questions to the Immigration Department.

The Government has refused to disclose details of its military-led operation to turn back vessels carrying asylum seekers trying to enter the country.

But it said in January that “15 returns of various forms” – including boats turned back to Indonesia and Sri Lanka, instances where asylum seekers were taken back by foreign countries, and rescues at sea – had taken place since the start of the policy in September 2013.

Turn-back operations last year angered Indonesia, with tensions growing after the Navy admitted entering the nation’s territorial waters.

Since July 2013, asylum seekers arriving on boats have been sent to detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

They are denied resettlement even if they are found to be genuine refugees.

The newspaper report came several months after the High Court ruled that detention of 157 Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka at sea for weeks in June last year was legal.

Their case centred around whether the Government had the power to remove asylum seekers from its contiguous zone, just outside territorial waters, and send them to other countries. The asylum seekers were eventually taken to Nauru.

The Government has said the policy is necessary to stop asylum seekers entering Australia by boat.

They had previously been arriving almost daily in often unsafe wooden fishing vessels, with hundreds drowning en route.

ABC/AFP

First published on ABC, 17/04/2015

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