A group of 68 Sri Lankans, who recently arrived at Cocos (Keeling) Islands, is now on Christmas Island and about to be returned home or sent to Papua New Guinea for enhanced screening processes, the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) said yesterday.
According to the Department, they face the same assessment process that unauthorized maritime arrivals of Sri Lankan background have since last year when the DIAC took steps to stem a significant upsurge in boat arrivals from Sri Lanka.
"Those who are screened out will be returned to Colombo as soon as possible, often within days," a DIAC spokesman said.
"If they are not quickly returned to Colombo, they will be taken to Papua New Guinea where their claims will be assessed," the spokesman said.
"If any of the group is screened in, they will not come to Australia for assessment; they will be among the first Sri Lankan boat arrivals sent to Papua New Guinea for processing," the spokesman added.
If any of the Sri Lankans are entitled to asylum, they will be settled in PNG and not in Australia under the recent agreement Australia signed with PNG after the new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd assumed power.
The Sri Lankans began their enhanced screening as arrangements were finalized for the first transfer of people affected by the post-July 19 regional settlement arrangement to Manus Island in PNG.
Under new rules announced on July 19, migrants arriving in Australia by boat without a visa no longer have the chance to settle in Australia.
The prime ministers of Australia and Papua New Guinea signed the new agreement that all migrants arriving by boat without a visa from July 19 will be sent to PNG, where their claims will be assessed and if they are found to be refugees, they will be permanently settled in PNG, not in Australia.
"The message this agreement sends is clear: the dangerous boat journey is not worth it and you will never settle in Australia," the spokesman said. "Accommodation is being expanded on Manus Island and there is no cap on the number of people who can be transferred there."
Almost 1,300 Sri Lankans have been sent home since August 2012 - nearly 1,100 of them involuntarily.
"These arrangements will continue and if they do not have proper asylum claims, people will be quickly returned to Sri Lanka," the spokesman said. "This is making it clear that those who pay smugglers are throwing their money away and risking their lives in the process."