Seventeen Sri Lankans involved in the Oceanic Viking stand-off should be confirmed as genuine refugees before being resettled in Australia, the opposition says.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced today that the Sri Lankans, the last from the Oceanic Viking to be resettled, were to return to Australia after meeting “standard health, security and character requirements”.
The Oceanic Viking, an Australian customs vessel, last year rescued a group of 78 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, sparking a diplomatic tug-of-war between Canberra and Jakarta over who had responsibility for them.
Eventually, the group was landed in Indonesia where they were transferred to an Australian-built detention centre.
All 78 were given refugee status by the UNHCR. Australia originally resettled 15 and Bowen said today 40 others were resettled in other countries including the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Norway.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison told The Australian Online the claims of the 17 remaining asylum-seekers should be reassessed.
“I accept that the UNHCR at the time made an assessment, (but) being a refugee is not a permanent condition hopefully,” he said.
Morrison suggested that if the assessment was done afresh today there “may be a different outcome” and stressed that things have changed.
“Given that there has been by the government’s own acknowledgement a change in country circumstances for asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka, and that change prompted the introduction of an asylum freeze, I think it’s only appropriate that the government reconsider assessing the claims of these outstanding applicants for resettlement in Australia.”
Morrison said the only reason not to reassess the claims would be to “honour Kevin Rudd’s special deal” referring to claims the then Prime Minister had offered the Sri Lankans a swift resettlement to end the stand-off.
The 17 Sri Lankans are currently being kept in a UNHCR transit centre in Romania as they await “resolution of their cases,” Bowen said.
“All of the 78 people from the Oceanic Viking were found to be refugees by the UNHCR and as such they cannot be returned to Sri Lanka,” he said. – The Australian