Sri Lankans sent home an ‘important step’ - Bowen

Sri Lankans sent home an ‘important step’ - Bowen

September 22, 2012   02:48 pm

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the first return of Sri Lankan asylum seekers back to their home country after refusing to be transferred to Nauru is an important step in deterring people smuggling.

A group of 18 Sri Lankan men left Christmas Island for Colombo on Saturday after asking to be sent home rather than going to the Pacific island for the processing of their asylum seeker claims.

“It is a sign of people weighing up their options and they have been misled by people smugglers,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney.

“The first transfer of 18 people is a very significant step.”

Announcing the return of the men, Mr Bowen also said people arriving by boat in future would be barred from sponsoring family under changes to be made to the special humanitarian program.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said he’d revealed on Tuesday that the Sri Lankan group had decided to return home.

He said Mr Bowen was “playing catch-up, confirming the information revealed by the coalition earlier in the week”.

The plane carrying the men left Christmas Island at 0815 (1115 AEST) on Saturday bound for the Sri Lankan capital.

Mr Bowen said 16 of the 18 men arrived in Australia after August 13, when the government announced its new border protection policies.

“They have asked not be transferred to Nauru, but instead to be returned to their homeland of Sri Lanka,” Mr Bowen said.

The first group to be sent for offshore processing were transferred from Christmas Island to Nauru on September 14.

The government has reopened the processing centre at Nauru and is soon to reopen Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island to stem boat arrivals.

Australian authorities earlier on Saturday reported a boat carrying 17 suspected asylum seekers was intercepted west of Christmas Island the previous day.

It was the 144th boat intercepted in Australian waters this year.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, speaking to reporters in Brisbane, said the arrival again showed the government had lost control of Australia’s borders. - AAP

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