Australia sends asylum group to Nauru detention centre

A group of Tamil asylum seekers board an aeroplane on Cocos Island before being transferred to Australia - 27 July 2014 Image copyright EPA
Image caption The group were only moved to mainland Australia after they had spent a month being held at sea

Australia has sent 157 Tamil asylum seekers to the Pacific island of Nauru for processing after they refused to meet Indian officials.

The group were held at sea for a month after their boat, which set sail from India, was intercepted in June.

They were moved to Australia's mainland to meet Indian officials but they refused to discuss their claims.

The Tamils set sail from Pondicherry in India in June but are thought to be from Sri Lanka.

After being landed in Australia, they have been held at the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in a remote region of Western Australia.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Only four members of the large group, which includes 50 children, were allowed to talk to lawyers

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the group, including 50 children, would either be resettled in Nauru or deported to Sri Lanka.

"If they are not found to be a refugee they will go back to Sri Lanka, not India. Going back to India, where they are likely to have family and friends, is no longer an option," he said.

Lawyers representing many of the group condemned the transfer as "a deliberate move to prevent legal scrutiny".

Hugh de Kretser, director of the Human Rights Law Centre, said he had "grave concerns for their mental health" after being held at sea "in windowless rooms for at least 21 hours a day".

He said lawyers had sought to talk to the group about their cases but had only been able to speak to four of them in brief telephone interviews.

'The safest thing to do'

Australia changed its policy on unauthorised boats in December to crack down on people-smuggling.

Under the new policy, all asylum-seekers arriving by boat are sent to Nauru and Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement, even if they are found to be refugees.

The Australian government says its aim is to save lives by preventing people getting on dangerous boats but rights groups have criticised conditions in detention camps.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the transfer, saying he was confident it was safe to send people to Nauru.

"If we are interested in safety, and we must be, the safest thing to do for everyone is to stop the boats because as long as the boats keep coming, the drownings will keep happening," he said.

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