Matthew Doran, ABC News, August 6, 2015
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed 46 asylum seekers were returned to Vietnam after their boat was intercepted off Western Australia last month.
Mr Dutton’s statement came as he released figures showing Australian authorities had turned back 20 boats, carrying 633 asylum seekers, over the past 18 months.
In the most recent incident, the boat carrying the Vietnamese asylum seekers came within about 150 kilometres of WA’s north-west coast before being spotted by crew members on an oil tanker.
Water police were called in to help locate the boat and the ABC understands an Australian Navy vessel followed later.
During the operation the Federal Government would not comment on the matter, but Mr Dutton has now said the asylum seekers were sent back to Vietnam.
“There were 46 people on a recent venture that did come from Vietnam, we have negotiated their return to Vietnam,” Mr Dutton said.
“We have worked on a bilateral basis with the Vietnamese government.
“The boat that they came on has been scuttled and we have been able to stare down that venture.”
Mr Dutton said it was proof that the Federal Government’s Operation Sovereign Borders turn-back policy was working.
“We have a very clear policy in place and that is that people who seek to come to our country by boat illegally will not settle in our country,” Mr Dutton said.
“We have a very good working relationship with the Vietnamese government, but we have these discussions, these negotiations on a case-by-case basis but we are working very well with the Vietnamese government.
“I want to thank them for the effort and for their support in relation to returning these 46 Vietnamese–to whom Australia owed no protection.
“Those people have arrived back safely . . . a good outcome for Operation Sovereign Borders and a good outcome for the sovereignty of our nation.”
Refugee support group VOICE said three of those who had been returned to Vietnam remained in police detention.
“Three among those people have been detained now, put into [Vietnam’s] equivalent of the Australian Federal Police . . . into detention for an indefinite period for interrogation,” spokesman Trug Doan said.