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Asylum seekers in Asia

Boat carrying suspected people smugglers and Chinese men landed on Australian island

Five of the men have been returned to China while two, including the Papua New Guinean, were arrested and charged with people-smuggling

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 11:40am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 10:53pm

A boat carrying six Chinese men and an alleged Papua New Guinean people-smuggler made it to Australian land earlier this month.

The boat landed on the low-lying north Queensland island of Sabai, 4km from the PNG coast and about 150km north of the tip of Cape York, on August 20.

Sabai is home to about 300 people.

One of the Chinese men, and the Papua New Guinean, were arrested and charged with people-smuggling. They appeared in a Cairns court and have been remanded in custody.

The other five Chinese men have been sent back to mainland China. It is unclear whether they made, or were allowed to make, a formal claim for asylum. It is also unknown what has happened to them on return.

The PNG newspaper the National named the alleged PNG people smuggler as Kolony Bama, 55, from Mabudauan village in the South Fly district of Western Province. It reported he had appeared before the Thursday Island district court on one charge of aggravated offence of people-smuggling.

The last boat to successfully make landfall was in May last year, when a group of 12 Sri Lankan asylum seekers piloted a fishing boat into the lagoon at the Cocos Islands, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. That group was taken onshore, before being flown back to Sri Lanka.

They were arrested upon return to Sri Lanka.

Vietnamese asylum seekers intercepted by Australian authorities at sea have also been returned to their country of origin, where they have been arrested and jailed, in some cases despite written assurances they would not face prosecution or punishment. Some of those boats have been intercepted inside Australia’s maritime zone, others in international waters.

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop, confirmed the latest boat’s arrival Wednesday morning.

“I understand that they are before the court,” Bishop said.

“We have very good border security strategies in place and these people were detected.”

Bishop denied the latest boat arrival represented a new wave of asylum seekers.

Asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are either turned back or sent to remote camps in Nauru and on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, where conditions have been widely criticised.

They are blocked from resettling in Australia.

Since the tough measures were adopted, which the government says are essential to prevent deaths at sea, Australia has gone more than 1,000 days since the last asylum-seeker vessel reached its shores.

Under the previous Labor government, at least 1,200 people died trying to make Australia by boat between 2008 and 2013.

Almost 850 vessels carrying 51,798 asylum-seekers arrived between those dates, according to figures compiled by the Australian parliament.

The Guardian, Agence France-Presse