Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare says Sri Lankans who come to Australia by boat and are not genuine refugees will be flown back home.
Mr Clare was speaking on Thursday after Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe said most of those leaving his country to come to Australia were doing so for economic reasons.
Earlier this week, a fishing boat carrying 66 suspected asylum seekers from Sri Lanka arrived in the Western Australia port of Geraldton, surprising authorities used to intercepting boats 2000km further north around the Cocos (Keeling) Islands or off Christmas Island.
Admiral Samarasinghe said he expected the 66 people would be sent back, adding there weren’t widespread cases of human rights abuse in Sri Lanka.
Mr Clare said the federal government had flown about 1000 people back to Sri Lanka in the past few months and argued the policy was deterring people from getting on boats.
“If you’re coming from Sri Lanka and you’re not a refugee you’ll get flown back home,” he told the Seven Network on Thursday.
“The prospect of drowning hasn’t put people off but the risk of being flown home in a couple of days has stopped people.”
Immigration minister Brendan O’Connor denied those sent back to Sri Lanka were being arrested.
“That’s not true,” he told ABC radio.
“People who are making wild claims about matters should provide evidence.”
Admiral Samarasinghe has also backed Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s plan to reinstate the Howard-era policy of towing back boats if the coalition wins government in September.
“Any Sri Lankan asylum boat being brought by the Australian navy to our waters we will welcome,” Admiral Samarasinghe told ABC television on Wednesday.
Mr Abbott said the government had “surrendered to the people smugglers” in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
“We will fix this problem,” he told reporters in Geelong, Victoria on Thursday.
Western Australian Liberal Senator Mathias Cormann said the Geraldton boat should have been detected before it arrived.
“This is a boat than came within 400km of Perth,” he told Sky News.
The coalition plans to spend about $1.5 billion to buy and operate seven unmanned aircraft to patrol the Australian coastline if it wins government.
“Obviously, a hot spot like the north-west maritime frontier is a place where you’d put these things,” opposition defence spokesman David Johnston told ABC radio on Thursday.
Initial inquiries suggest those on the Geraldton boat wanted to reach New Zealand, rather than the Australian mainland.