National Security

Three boat arrivals being processed at sea

May 14, 2024

Tuesday 14 May 2024
Angus Thompson and James Massola
Sydney Morning herald

 Two boatloads of asylum seekers intercepted off the Australian coast are  being kept at sea rather than being sent for offshore processing in Nauru,  prompting questions about whether the government is trying to send them home.
 Four Vietnamese asylum seekers intercepted by the Australian Border Force off  Broome late last week are still being kept at sea, as well as 33 people of  unknown nationality who arrived at Christmas Island.
 Separately, five Rwandans found by authorities on Saibai Island in the Torres  Strait last week have been taken to PNG.
 Government sources with knowledge of the Border Force operation confirmed  neither the Vietnamese nationals nor the 33 people had been sent to the Nauru  detention facility and nor had they been sent home, and that they were being  processed on Border Force vessels.
 The ABF declined to comment on all three boats, which were all intercepted in  the past week.
 The interceptions will increase scrutiny on how much is spent on border  security in tonight's federal budget. The opposition has been critical of  Labor's handling of border security since the arrival of three boatloads of  asylum seekers in Western Australia late last year.
 Coalition home affairs spokesman James Paterson described interceptions so  close to Australian shores as "another shocking failure of border  protection under the Albanese Labor government".
 Paterson blamed a reduction in aerial flying hours and maritime patrol days,  as well as Labor's abolition of the Coalition's temporary protection visa  scheme.
 Coalition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan said: "Three boats arrived  last week and no one knows what [the government is] doing with these  people."
 The federal government has previously intercepted asylum seekers on water and  returned them to their country of departure.
 In August 2022, 46 asylum seekers were returned to Sri Lanka by the ABF. One  government official, who also asked not to be named, said there was a  possibility Border Force was preparing to undertake a similar turnback.
 In practice, that would mean sending asylum seekers and their boat back  either to its country of origin or its country of departure.
 Such an operation can be tricky, as some countries such as Indonesia and Iran  do not typically accept returned asylum seekers.
 A second government official, who asked not to be named so they could speak  freely, said people smugglers had a new "drop and run" operational  model.
 Smaller numbers of would-be asylum seekers are being shipped to Australia in  faster boats, dropped onshore and told not to alert authorities to their  presence immediately so the people smugglers can get away.

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