Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has described Sri Lanka as a ''society at peace''.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Premier said this amid mounting speculation that two boats carrying Tamil asylum seekers have been handed over to the Sri Lankan navy in the middle of the ocean.
Speaking to 3AW on Thursday morning, Mr Abbott said it was no secret that Australia was turning back boats on the high seas. ''We said before the election that one of the policy options that we reserve the right to use, were it safe to do so, is turning boats around,'' he said.
"Everything we do is consistent with safety at sea and everything we do is consistent with our international obligations."It is a peaceful country. It is a peaceful country. I don't say it's a perfect country, not even Australia is that. But it is a peaceful country and all of us should be grateful that the horrific civil war is well and truly over and that is to the benefit of every single Sri Lankan, Tamil, Sinhalese. Everyone in Sri Lanka is infinitely better off as a result of the cessation of the war."
On Wednesday, Fairfax Media revealed that 50 Sri Lankan asylum on board one boat were asked four basic questions by immigration officials via a teleconference, as part of a screening process. It is understood the asylum seekers are likely to be handed over to the Sri Lankan navy.
The questions asked included the passengers' name, country of origin, where they had come from and why they had left.
Another asylum seeker boat, which held 153 passengers who were also Sri Lankan Tamils, has since been transferred to a navy boat, after civilians lost contact with the boat on Saturday morning.
When asked whether the government was sending asylum seekers back to the country they fled from, Mr Abbott replied: ''There does need to be a process because we do have international obligations so there does need to be a process.
''But I want to make this observation, Sri Lanka is not everyone's idea of the ideal society but it is at peace . . . a horrific civil war has ended. I believe that there has been a lot of progress when it comes to human rights and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.''
''The public deserve safe and secure borders,'' Mr Abbott said. ''They deserve a country that has not become open for the wrong kind of business, the people smuggling business," he told reporters in Melbourne.