October 2, 2009
NINE failed asylum seekers are about to be sent home to Sri Lanka - the Rudd Government's first forcible removals of people who have come to Australia by boat.
The removals come as a boat with 69 people on board - the fourth in less than a week - was intercepted early yesterday and the issue of the rising number of unauthorised arrivals heats up politically.
Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said this week the line between economic migrants and refugees was being blurred and Malcolm Turnbull renewed calls for an inquiry.
The Sri Lankans, who have been on Christmas Island, were among 12 who arrived at Shark Bay in November last year. Two have already returned voluntarily after their claims failed and another is appealing to the Federal Court and will stay until that appeal is determined.
The Sri Lankans, due to fly to Perth last night, arrived on the Australian mainland and so had access to the full Australian legal system, unlike those who are intercepted before they land and are taken straight to Christmas Island.
A group of 58 Indonesians is set to leave voluntarily at the weekend. They did not apply for asylum but said they were seeking fruit-picking work.
Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans is using the removals to send a tough message. ''All irregular maritime arrivals found not to be owed protection and with no other basis to remain in Australia will be removed,'' he said.
He said all protection issues raised by this particular group of Sri Lankans had been assessed against Australia's international obligations. There were no issues that would prevent their return to Sri Lanka.
Earlier Senator Evans said that the 500 or so boat arrivals in September reflected a ''worrying change in circumstances'' and was a ''worrying development''.
He said that apart from an increasing flow of Afghan asylum seekers there was now the further challenge of a ''second pipeline'' of people from Sri Lanka, who were coming directly or through Malaysia. This second supply line was more of the problem than the first one, which was through Indonesia. ''Why we're seeing increased numbers is very much driven by the arrival of Sri Lankans.''
Until there was a peaceful settlement in Sri Lanka, Tamils would be seeking asylum in safe countries, he said.
Dealing with this second pipeline would require more resources and Australia was increasing its engagement with the Sri Lankan Government. Nearly 200 of the September arrivals were Sri Lankans.
Senator Evans conceded the political difficulties of the rising number of boat arrivals - now nearly 1600 this year. ''I don't underestimate the political potency of a large number of arrivals.'' But he rejected the Opposition's call for an independent inquiry, saying ''we know what the problem is''.