The first of 157 asylum-seekers who attempted to enter Australia by boat arrived on the country’s mainland on Sunday, after being held at sea for weeks
Eighty-one asylum-seekers arrived at the remote Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia, a spokesman for the facility said, after they were reportedly flown there by the government from the remote atoll of Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean.
The boatpeople, thought to be mostly minority ethnic Tamils from Sri Lanka, were the first in seven months to reach the Australian mainland.
More of the asylum-seekers were reportedly expected to arrive at the detention centre on Monday.
They had left India last month and were taken onto a customs vessel on June 29, before being brought to Cocos Islands – a tiny Australian territory – early on Sunday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said.
Return ‘where possible’
The Australian government said on Friday the asylum-seekers, including children, would be held on the mainland until Indian consular officials could confirm their nationalities and arrange where possible for them to return to India.
The relocations came ahead of a High Court hearing in early August, where lawyers acting for about one-third of those who had been on the boat were set to argue that any transfer to Colombo in Sri Lanka would be illegal.
Under Canberra’s hardline immigration policy, boatpeople arriving in Australia since July 2013 have been sent to camps on Manus Island and Nauru.
They will be resettled in those countries if their refugee claims are valid.
Refugee activist Ian Rintoul hailed the arrival of the asylum-seekers in Australia and urged the government to release them into the community while their protection claims were being processed.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, a strong critic of the government’s immigration policies, said earlier on Sunday she would travel to the Curtin facility in the next few days to check on the welfare of the children in the group.
“Just because (Prime Minister) Tony Abbott wants to trade in their lives doesn’t make it legal,” Hanson-Young said, adding that she would also advise the asylum-seekers of their legal rights.
Abbott said on Saturday that those who came to Australia illegally by boat would “never ever get permanent residency”.