Two men who were sent from Australia to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru are among a group of 28 Sri Lankans who dropped their asylum claims and are returning home, the government said yesterday.
Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said most of the men had arrived after the government announced its tough new policy for boat people under which they face an undefined period of time on Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
“They have instead chosen to return home voluntarily,” Bowen said.
The men left Australia — which is trying stop record numbers of boat people arriving in its waters — on a charter flight from Christmas Island to Colombo early yesterday.
Bowen said that 20 of them had been held on Christmas Island — a remote territory that Canberra uses as its main immigration processing center for boat people — while six were from facilities located on the mainland and a further two were being held on Nauru.
Their removal follows that of 18 other Sri Lankans who last week dropped their visa claims and volunteered to return home rather than face being sent to Nauru.
Australia is seeking to stop asylum seekers from arriving by boat after scores of drownings en route, yet so far more than 3,200 boat people have arrived since the new policy was announced in the middle of last month.
As a deterrent, Canberra has begun sending asylum seekers arriving by boat offshore to Nauru where conditions are basic and asylum seekers are currently housed in tents while their claims are processed.
About 150 asylum seekers are now on Nauru and Bowen said transfers to the island would continue.
“People who pay smugglers to risk their lives on a dangerous sea journey are throwing their money away — there is no visa awaiting them, no speedy outcome, no special treatment,” he said in a statement.
“Regular transfers to Nauru and more Sri Lankans returning home is further proof that people smugglers only sell lies and make false promises about what awaits people in Australia,” he added.
The new policy was introduced after many boat people arrived this year, with more than 10,000 arriving so far, many of them Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians who have paid people-smugglers to ferry them from Indonesia.