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Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - 5.53 GMT

Australia deported 332 failed asylum seekers so far


Australia has deported 332 asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka since the Australian government reopened offshore processing centers on neighboring island countries.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship said eight Sri Lankan men, including five from the processing center on Nauru Island, arrived in Colombo Sunday after having agreed to return voluntarily.

Some of the 332 returnees have been returned involuntarily and asylum seekers can request to be sent home at any time during their processing, a department spokesman said.

“Regular transfers to Nauru and more Sri Lankans returning home is further proof that there is no advantage engaging with people smugglers,” the spokesman said.

All 332 have been sent back since the Australian government announced Aug. 13 that irregular maritime arrivals would be liable for transfer to regional processing facilities in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said in a statement the departure of recent Sri Lankans raised no issues that engaged Australia’s international obligations.

A report by The Australian newspaper said Bowen’s comment implied that the returned Sri Lankans weren’t considered refugees.

“The government will continue to return people where they do not engage Australia’s international obligations,” Bowen said.

Australia changed its policy on asylum seekers this year and the refugees arriving after August 13 will be sent to the detention centers in Nauru and Manus Island where they have to wait for a long period to obtain a legitimate visa.

Australia continues to struggle with thousands of asylum seekers arriving in its waters in dangerously overcrowded and rickety boats. All have paid people smugglers hundreds or thousands of dollars for the sometimes fatal voyage.

Government figures estimate around more than 600 refugees have drowned in the past three years.

The centers were opened after a deal by the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard with Malaysia floundered earlier this year over legal issues.

The Australian Prime Minister decided in August to negotiate the reopening of the centers after an independent panel, led by former Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, recommended offshore processing.






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Last modified: November 20, 2012.

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