Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says a group of people seeking asylum reached the country’s Cocos Islands (a remote chain of islands and atolls located between Sri Lanka and the west coast of the Australian mainland) last week, and they were sent back to Sri Lanka on 6 May.
The 12 people arrived in a vessel that came within 500m of Home Island, reads an article published on BBC News. Dutton said Australia had intercepted two more boats with people seeking asylum this year, but gave no further information about them. The announcement was made on Monday, which is the first official day of Australia’s federal election campaign.
The policies against asylum seekers are seen as quite tough, which has made the number of people seeking asylum to plunge. In the same press conference, Dutton criticized the opposition for their position on securing the Australian borders. On Monday, an MP from the Labor Party, Sophie Ismail, expressed her concerns about Australia’s controversial immigration policies, especially about turn-backs.
“When people arrive by boat, and 90% of them are genuine refugees, turning them back to places not signed up to the refugee convention is problem,” she said.
Dutton interpreted this comments as the party being split in what concerns immigration policy. He also revealed that the fate of asylum seekers currently held at Australia’s detention facility on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea would not be decided for months.
The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that the facility was illegal under its constitution, and Dutton believes that “it will be a couple of months to sort through legal issues”.
Australia usually sends people who are caught seeking asylum to such offshore locations such as Manus Island and Nauru.
The government believes that the asylum seekers make it dangerous and controlled by criminal gangs, and that it is their duty to stop them. However, critics say that being opposed to people seeking asylum is a racially motivated decision and is damaging Australia’s reputation.