SYDNEY, July 25, 2014 (AFP) – A group of 157 asylum-seekers in custody on the high seas for weeks will be taken to Australia and held until consular officials confirm their nationalities, ending a long stand-off, authorities said Friday. The development follows lawyers acting for about one-third of those on board — thought to be mostly minority ethnic Tamils from Sri Lanka — taking their case to the High Court.
They argued that any transfer to Colombo would be illegal, with concerns about the way they were screened.
The boat left India last month and Australia said it had been “disabled” when it was intercepted outside Canberra’s migration zone.
The asylum-seekers, including children, have since been held in limbo on board an Australian customs ship while their legal status is determined.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said they would be taken to the mainland — the first boatpeople to arrive in Australia in seven months — where Indian consular officials would determine their identities.
“I have been pleased to consent to the passengers being returned to Australia for the purpose of allowing Indian officials to determine identities and arrange where possible for the return of any persons to India,” he said. ”