Immigration Minister Scott Morrison maintains secrecy over asylum seekers

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Colombo: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has defended the secrecy surrounding the fate of 153 south Asian asylum seekers being held at sea by Australian authorities as an integral part of the federal government’s operations strategy.

”What I’m saying is that any other ventures that are the subject of matters before the Australian courts are matters that we will address in those courts and we have always maintained a very strong process for how we manage communications regarding our operations,” Mr Morrison said.

”That communication protocol has been put in place by Lieutenant-General Campbell, who heads the joint agency taskforce in Australia that has command over these matters. As the minister of the government, I’m going to adhere to those protocols because they have been very important to the success of those operations.”

Speaking after the launch of two patrol boats given to the Sri Lankan navy by Australia, Mr Morrison said any talk about where the 153 asylum seekers would end up was speculation.

”Those matters are currently before courts in Australia so I don’t intend to [engage in] any further discussion of that other than [what] has been provided in the court,” Mr Morrison said.

Asked whether he asked Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaska to consider accepting the asylum seekers, Mr Morrison rejected the question as speculation.

”I have given you my answer to that question … once again you’re speculating,” Mr Morrison said.

With about half the asylum seekers being held at sea by Australian authorities believed to have come from Tamil refugee camps in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, there has been suggestions that India might accept the boat.

However, in an interview with Fairfax Media last week, B. Anand, principal secretary for rehabilitation and welfare of non-resident Tamils in the state of Tamil Nadu, said India was not able to accept any more Tamils who left India by illegal means.

“The war in Sri Lanka ended in 2009, so it is difficult to accept that these people can still claim refugee status,” Mr Anand said. “And if they were registered here as refugees, once they leave the country illegally, we cannot take them back here.”

Mr Morrison said that whatever happened to the 153 asylum seekers, Australia took very seriously its responsibilities to people’s safety.

”And to the various obligations that we have under the various conventions of which we are a signatory to and the Australian government rejects any suggestions that we have acted contrary to any of those obligations that we have,” he said.

Mr Morrison said he was not concerned that the 41 asylum seekers who were returned by Australia to Sri Lanka on Monday would be mistreated by Sri Lankan authorities.

”No, I’m not [concerned] and we’re relying on the same assurances on those matters as the previous government relied upon,” he said.

Mr Morrison also rejected allegations that Australian officials had mistreated any of the 41 refugees.

”I find those allegations offensive and I reject them absolutely.”

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