Australia intercepted an asylum-seeker boat which was carrying women and children from Sri Lanka last week, the Australian immigration minister revealed on Monday, and added that two more refugee boats had been sent back this year alone.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the boat carrying twelve Sri Lankans was sent back on May 6 after arriving to the country’s Cocos Islands territory. He did not provide anymore information about the two other boats.
The government defends its immigration policy including sending crowded vessels back and having offshore detentions in Manus Island and Nauru saying that the policy is aimed at protecting refugees and preventing deaths at sea.
However, the opposition party criticised the government’s refugee policy and the treatment of refugees once again as debates on the issue have started to heat up again ahead of the country’s federal elections on July 2.
Media reported on Monday that Labor MP Sophie Ismail said that she does not support turn-backs.
‘I have concerns about turn-backs, I don’t think they should be on the table.’
"When people arrive by boat, and 90% of them are genuine refugees, turning them back to places not signed up to the refugee convention is a problem," she said.
Opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten’s comments followed Ismail’s comment, in where he said opposing the government's immigration policy doesn't equate to supporting smugglers.
"One thing I will never do is put the people smugglers back in business," Shorten said in a television interview.
The government’s measures were also slammed by a Papua New Guinea court in late April for being illegal and not respecting ‘the rights and dignity of mankind.’
The country’s Supreme Court’s bench said Australian ‘illegal’ detention centres were breaching its constitution by hindering personal freedom.
Dutton said in his speech on Monday on the first day of the election campaign that the government would not decide on offshore detention facilities immediately despite legal problems pointed out by Papua New Guinea.
‘I think it will be a couple of months to sort through legal issues,’ he said and reiterated that no one coming by boat would ever be able to settle in Australia.