Sri Lanka Navy, confirming Australia's account of handing over the Sri Lankan asylum seekers in deep sea, said they were being brought ashore.
Sri Lanka Navy's Offshore Patrol Vessel, SLNS Samudura brough 41 Australia-bound Sri Lankan illegal immigrants to the Galle Harbor, the Navy said.
Australian authorities handed over the 41 asylum seekers to SLNS Samudura yesterday morning when it was on deep sea patrol in the southern seas of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Navy said it will hand over the group to the law enforcement authorities for further investigations when brought ashore.
Australia confirmed the handover of the group of 37 Sinhalese and 4 Tamils to Sri Lanka Navy at sea, in mild sea conditions from a vessel assigned to Border Protection Command (BPC), just outside the Port of Batticaloa.
Australian Minister of Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison said his government will not allow people smugglers to try and exploit and manipulate Australia's support of the international conventions as a tool to undermine Australia's strong border protection regime that is stopping the boats and the deaths at sea.
The Australian government in a statement affirmed that at no stage the vessel was in distress and all persons aboard the suspected vessel were safe and accounted for.
"All persons intercepted and returned were subjected to an enhanced screening process, as also practiced by the previous government, to ensure compliance by Australia with our international obligations under relevant conventions," Mr. Morrison's office said.
According to the Australian government, the process includes identifying any person who may need to be referred to a further determination process. In such cases, the government's policy is to transfer such persons to either Papua New Guinea or Nauru for offshore processing.
"Accordingly, the Government will continue to reject the public and political advocacy of those who have sought to pressure the Government into a change of policy. Their advocacy, though well intentioned, is naively doing the bidding of people smugglers who have been responsible for almost 1200 deaths at sea," .
The office of the Minister Morrison said that Australia and Sri Lanka have a strong history of cooperation at the operational level to disrupt people smuggling ventures departing Sri Lanka.
"We are grateful for the efforts of the Sri Lankan Navy to combat people smuggling, as well as other Sri Lankan authorities," Mr. Morrison said.
He said Sri Lanka is one of many close partners with whom the Australian Government works in the region.
"The Australian Government looks forward to continued cooperation with Sri Lanka. Australia's cooperation with Sri Lanka is as important as it is effective," he said.
The Australian Government, he said, does not deal in half measures and has the policies and resolve to fight people smugglers and stop illegal boat arrivals.
The Minister asked the people not to trust the lies of people smugglers and seek to come to Australia illegally by boat. It is dangerous and the Australian Government's strong border protection policies under Operation Sovereign Borders mean they will not succeed, he emphasized.