Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison says the 157 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers are economic migrants seeking to illegally enter Australia since they came from India, a safe country.
"These people have come from the safe country of India. They haven't come from Sri Lanka, they haven't come from any of those other countries - Afghanistan or anything like that. They have come from India and as a result where they are safe in India, a passage to Australia here is nothing more than an economic migration seeking to illegally enter Australia," Minister Morrison said in an interview with ABC AM Programme.
Morrison confirmed that the 157 men, women and children, the first group of asylum seekers to come to the Australian mainland since December has arrived at the Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia.
The group was detained on a Customs ship Ocean Protector after their boat was intercepted by Australian authorities a month ago in mid sea.
The Sri Lankan asylum seekers who departed Pondicherry, India in June were transferred to the Cocos Island s first and then to the Curtin Detention Centre yesterday.
The group will go through some initial checks and assessments and Indian consular officials will be arriving to interview the people with the purposes of establishing their identity and residency in India, the Minister said.
Morrison added that since the group came from India, Indian officials will be determining their identity and residency and the measure was a result of the discussions he had last week with his counterparts in New Delhi.
The Minister stressed that the Australian government is not processing the asylum seekers but only determining the identity and they were brought to the mainland since it was difficult to do that in the ship where they were detained. He said it is the standard procedure.
Minister Morrison pointed out that a very large number of people on the ship had been resident in India for a very long time and the ship was an Indian flag vessel that came out of the Port of Pondicherry. "It did not pick up anyone along the way," he added.
The Minister dismissed the idea that the refugees will be persecuted if returned to India.
"I mean India is a vibrant democracy, they are a good partner and they are working together closely with us to fight against people smuggling. I mean, the Indian government itself and India more generally have been praised by the UNHCR for the way that they've provided support to people who are from Sri Lanka living in India. So the suggestion that people have left a safe country are somehow fleeing persecution in India I think is absurd," Morrison said.