CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Six asylum seekers who attempted to reach Australia by boat have been sent back to Sri Lanka in a demonstration that tough border enforcement measures had not softened since recent Australian elections, a Cabinet minister said Wednesday.
A tip from the Sri Lankan government alerted Australian authorities that the boat was on its way, Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said in a statement. The six were returned to Sri Lanka on Tuesday, he said.
"This return shows that there has not been, and will not be, any change to Australia's robust border protection policies," Dutton said.
The government releases few details about such interceptions at sea, which have prevented any asylum seeker from reaching Australia by boat for two years.
News Corp., citing an anonymous government source, reported the Sri Lankans were all men and had been stranded at sea with a faulty engine for at least two weeks when they were spotted by an Australian surveillance plane in international waters.
The men were assessed as not being genuine refugees and were returned to Sri Lanka by plane, News Corp. reported. It is not clear from where that plane took off.
The government refuses to allow refugees from Asia, the Middle East and Africa who come by boat, usually from Indonesian ports, to settle in Australia. The boats are often turned back or sunk, with their passengers and crews sent to Indonesia in life boats supplied by Australia.
Asylum seekers were an issue in the elections in July. The conservative government had warned that if the opposition Labor Party had won, they would have softened the border protection measures, which have been criticized by Indonesia and human rights groups.
The Sri Lankans are the first known attempt by asylum seekers to reach Australia by boat since the July 2 poll.