Detained Sri Lankan refugees arrive in Australia amid legal challenge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 10:42pm

A group of 157 Sri Lankan asylum seekers has arrived at a detention camp in Australia, government officials said yesterday.

The asylum seekers had been held at sea by authorities for almost a month, sparking a legal challenge. Their interception and detention has spotlighted Australia's controversial policies to turn back boats carrying potential refugees, drawing world scrutiny and criticism from rights groups and the UN.

The group was taken to the remote Curtin Detention Centre in outback Western Australia on Sunday and yesterday.

Indian consular officials were due to begin interviewing some of the group, whose boat was intercepted by the Australian navy after setting sail from India.

India has agreed to take back any of its nationals among the group, but a lawyer said they should first be interviewed by Australian authorities to establish any claims to asylum.

"Now these people are in Australia, the ordinary protections of Australian law must be afforded to these people," human rights lawyer David Manne said.

"It's a fundamental principal of refugee law that no person should have to deal with the authorities of another country from which they may have fled."

The government brought the group to Australia after human rights lawyers began legal action to stop them from being sent to Sri Lanka, disputing the government's right to assess asylum claims with the detainees at sea.

The High Court decided yesterday to drop the case, citing the detainees' changed circumstances. Lawyers said they were discussing new potential legal action with the detainees.

The group of Sri Lankan men, women and children are the first asylum seekers travelling by boat to reach mainland Australia in seven months.