Sri Lankan asylum seeker mistreatment claims are 'urban myth', says former Australian foreign minister

Many of the 41 returned refugees have been bailed in Sri Lanka

The former Australian Foreign Minister has dismissed claims of mistreatment of asylum seekers on their return to Sri Lanka, claiming the country was “not doing badly”.

Bob Carr was speaking before news came through that some of the 41 people who had tried to cross to Australia by boat and were turned back by authorities had been released by a Sri Lankan court.

Five alleged traffickers, including a Sri Lankan policeman, who were on the boat are among those still being held.

The 27 others were accused of illegally leaving the country and released on bail. Nine children were also freed.

The vessel was intercepted by Australia's border patrol off the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean in late June and the decision on Sunday to reject their asylum claims and hand them over to the Sri Lankan Government provoked international outrage.

Systemic mistreatment of those returned to Sri Lanka was “extraordinary urban mythology”, Mr Carr claimed in an interview with ABC Radio.

“It’s in the interest of Sri Lanka to send a message to the world…that in cases like this it adheres to its own law,” he said.

“Things I’ve been hearing from the refugee lobby are simply unsustainable.

“The idea that there is entrenched apartheid in the country like old South Africa or the West Bank just cannot be sustained.”

A Sri Lankan navy boat (L) patrols after Sri Lanka transfered 41 would-be asylum seekers whose boat was turned away by Australia at the southern port of Galle A Sri Lankan navy boat (L) patrols after Sri Lanka transfered 41 would-be asylum seekers whose boat was turned away by Australia at the southern port of Galle Mr Carr said that while he was in office, as the Labour government’s foreign minister between March 2012 and October 2013, the high commission in Sri Lanka had not found evidence of mistreatment.

He did not believe the treatment of returning asylum seekers had changed, saying “they are treated in accordance with law, interviewed and released”.

Human rights groups have recorded evidence of returned asylum seekers being tortured and subjected to sexual violence by Sri Lankan authorities.

One of the asylum seekers taken back to the country claimed he was beaten by an Australian officer and forced to kneel after he protested the alleged mistreatment of the migrants.

Damith Kaldera, 48, said the group of 41 set out from Batticaloa, on Sri Lanka's east coast, with the intention of going to New Zealand.

Each asylum seeker paid 150,000 rupees (£670) to smugglers, with the promise of paying another 450,000 rupees (£2,018) after finding a job in New Zealand, he said.

Mr Kaldera claimed that Australian officials took the boat further out to sea after intercepting it and kept the passengers there for a week without enough food and other essentials.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, expressed “profound concern” over Australia was processing asylum seekers at sea rather than bringing them ashore.

“UNHCR considers that individuals who seek asylum must be properly and individually screened for protection needs,” a statement said.

“International law prescribes that no individual can be returned involuntarily to a country in which he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution.”

The Australian Government has insisted it followed due process assessing the asylum claims on board and has upheld international human rights obligations.

On Tuesday it announced a second group of asylum seekers would not be sent back Sri Lanka without three days' notice following a court challenge and uproar from human rights groups.

Refugee advocates and human rights agencies argued that the asylum seekers could face persecution in their home country.

Lawyers representing some of the 153 people on the latest intercepted boat went to the High Court to stop the from being returned. They are currently being held on an Australian customs vessel.

The hearing was the first time the Australian Government acknowledged the second boat's existence, despite rumours.

Sri Lanka has arrested at least 4,300 people trying to migrate to Australia since 2009, according to the country’s navy.

Additional reporting by AP

Read more: Australia must give 72 hours' notice before returning 153 asylum seekers
International condemnation over Australia turning around asylum seekers
Australia blamed for deaths of 50 people in boat disaster
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'