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MELBOURNE: Australia today said that the identity of 157 Tamil asylum seekers who were detained on a customs ship for a month will now be assessed by Indian consular officials here.
Stating that the group of asylum seekers were economic migrants, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said that they would not face persecution if they return to India.

According to an ABC report here, Morrison said the group which includes 37 children, were now transferred to Western Australia’s Curtin Immigration Detention Centre and would be meeting Indian consular officials.

The Indian officials were expected to help determine the identities and residency of the asylum seekers.

“These people have come from the safe country of India. A passage here is nothing more than an economic migration seeking to illegally enter Australia,” the minister said.

“The suggestion that people who have left a safe country are somehow fleeing persecution, I think, is absurd. I would be surprised if anyone was seriously suggesting that people were being persecuted in India by the Indian government, apart from (Greens party senator) Sarah Hanson-Young, which is just an absurd and offensive claim,” he said while describing India as a safe country and a “vibrant democracy”.

“If we can’t take people back to India, what is next? New Zealand? India (is) a good partner, they’re working closely with us,” he said.

The ABC report also quoted Indian High Commissioner to Australia Biren Nanda as saying that India has not been officially asked yet to interview the 157 Tamils at Curtin, although he said the staff was ready.

Nanda said India will take back any of the asylum seekers who were Indian nationals.

“First we have to make a determination of who these people are,” Nanda said adding, “For all we know there may not be Indian nationals involved. We do not know whether the people have come from India or whether they have been living in camps in India”.

He said Tamil people who live in Indian refugee camps are generally refugees, not residents.

“We have a large number of (Sri Lankan) Tamil refugees in India, it is a well known fact, and they have been living in camps and some of them have voluntarily agreed to go back to Sri Lanka. Generally speaking we do not repatriate anybody against his will,” he said.

Morrison said the Tamils did not make asylum claims to Australian officials while being held over for the past few weeks on the customs ship, the Ocean Protector.–PTI

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