Australia urged to 'come clean' on Vietnamese refugees

A Royal Australian Navy Ship takes part in a rescue effort of suspected asylum seekers after their boat capsized, on June 22, 2012 on Christmas Island. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Australia has adopted a policy of not resettling people who arrive by boat

Concerns have been raised about the fate of 42 asylum seekers who have been allegedly sent back to Vietnam.

The Australian Greens said the government may have breached international law by sending them back.

A small wooden boat, the first "illegal" vessel entry into Australia since June 2014, was spotted off country's north-west coast, last week.

The boat has not been sighted since, and the government has refused to say where the refugees are.

Speaking in Sydney on Monday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to comment, saying only that the government would "do what we have always done, and that is to act in accordance with Australia's interest".

Children aboard

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government "must come clean" about the fate of the asylum seekers.

"Handing these people directly over to the Vietnamese Government constitutes refoulement, which is a breach of the Refugee Convention," Ms Hanson-Young said in a statement.

Crew working for oil and gas producer Modec had spotted the boat within 500m of their floating oil tanker, about 150km (93 miles) from the Dampier coast.

Refugee advocates have said they believed a number of children were on board on the boat.

Australia and asylum

  • Many asylum seekers - mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran - travel to Australia by boat from Indonesia
  • To stop the influx, the government has adopted hard-line measures intended as a deterrent
  • Everyone who arrives is detained, and processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Those found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG, Nauru or Cambodia
  • The government has also adopted a policy of tow-backs, or turning boats around

Victorian president of the Vietnamese community, Bon Nguyen, had been told some of the asylum seekers had been returned to Vietnam, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC).

"I have a great fear for their safety," Mr Nguyen told the ABC.

"If [the] Australian Government has returned them back to Vietnam already, please have some sort of monitor program so that our Australian embassies in Vietnam can actually keep an eye on them," he said.

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