NEW DELHI: India has sought consular access from Australia to the 157 asylum seekers, who are at the centre of a legal challenge and media outrage Down Under, to identify and verify if any of them are Indians.
This was conveyed by India during the meeting of visiting Australian immigration minister Scott Morrison with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday.
“The Indian side sought consular access and emphasised the importance of handling such cases in a legal and humanitarian manner, ensuring that no harm befalls upon anyone, especially minor children,” said an MHA press release about the meeting in Parliament House.
The Australian government had planned the visit at short notice after facing heavy criticism about the treatment of 157 people aboard a boat, who reportedly left from a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee camp in Puducherry. Apparently, the decision for the meeting was taken within two days.
“The Union Home Minister stated that India, as a matter of policy, does not support any kind of illegal migration either into its own territory or illegal migration of its citizens to foreign territories,” added the press release.
According to sources, India has asked for consular access so that it can verify the nationality of the asylum seekers. If they are Indians, there are no legal issues in New Delhi accepting them back once they are deported by Australia.
Most Australian media reports claimed that the asylum seekers were largely Sri Lankan Tamils, which means India will naturally not accept them, while Australia, with its tough-as-nails immigration policy of Tony Abott administration, cannot be seen encouraging asylum seekers.
Australia had intercepted the boat in June and detained them at an unknown location at sea. Amid media outcry over the treatment of asylum seekers, the 157 people are the centre of a legal challenge to stop them from being deported.