Australia Says 157 Asylum Seekers to Be Brought to Mainland

Australia said 157 asylum seekers who have been held on a customs vessel for four weeks after being intercepted at sea will be brought to the mainland, amid a High Court challenge to the legality of their detention.

The decision to transfer the asylum seekers follows talks with the Indian government, which will be granted consular access to the refugees and help determine their identity, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said at news conference in Sydney today.

“It is our intention, those who can be returned, should and must be returned,” Morrison said. “We are in further discussions with the government of India regarding enhanced cooperation on people smuggling.” The two nations prime ministers are also due to meet in September, he said.

Morrison denied the transfer was a climbdown for Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government, which has prevented any boats carrying asylum seekers from reaching Australia’s shores for six months. Those intercepted in Australian waters are now either returned to their nation of origin or detained in offshore processing camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

The asylum seekers “will not be resettled in Australia,” Morrison told reporters today. “There is no change to our policy on any front.”

The case is due before a full bench hearing of the High Court next month. Lawyers for the government argued in a July 8 High Court hearing that the asylum seekers had no right to stay in Australia as their boat didn’t reach its migration zone, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported at the time.

“The Australian government has been compliant and cooperative with the High Court, and that action,” Morrison said. “We’ve given a series of undertakings which we have honored in every element, and we will continue to do so.”