Australia’s Vietnamese community has received a report that an Australian Navy boat carrying asylum seekers back to Vietnam has arrived in the country, amid concerns the group is now being interrogated by Communist officials.
Former community leader and refugee advocate Trung Doan said a message had come from Facebook that the Vietnamese asylum seekers arrived in the southern city of Vung Tau on Friday night, but there was no detail of how many were in the group or their names.
“We are sure they are not sitting in a five-star hotel,” he said.
“We are 99 per cent sure they are in a detention centre being interrogated.”
The Abbott government has so far offered no comment about reports, first appearing in The West Australian, that HMAS Choules has journeyed to Vietnam to hand a group of asylum seekers back to the Vietnamese government. It was reported that a group of about 50 were intercepted at sea earlier this month, north of Australia.
On Saturday a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said, “we do not comment on operational matters”.
Human Rights Law Centre director Daniel Webb said the government was the only party in a position to confirm that the Vietnamese asylum seekers had been sent back and that its silence was “deafening”.
On Friday, the centre wrote to the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva requesting “urgent action”. The letter asks the United Nations to ensure that Australia reveals where the asylum seekers are and the “legal basis for their detention”.
“We are concerned the group will be returned to Vietnam without any opportunity to make a protection claim and in contravention of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations.”
Mr Doan said that the Australian government was “slapping the UN Refugee Convention in the face” by returning the asylum seekers.
“Last year I spoke with the crying mother of an asylum seeker jailed for two years after Australia sent her son back into the hands of Vietnamese authorities. Many more mothers will cry this time.”
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the Abbott government was “trashing” Australia’s history of showing compassion to Vietnamese asylum seekers.
“This is the exact opposite of what Malcolm Fraser would have done,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
She said that those on the boat deserved to have their claims for asylum proceeded “fairly” in Australia.
Human Rights Watch has reported that the human rights situation in Vietnam has deteriorated “significantly” in recent years.
In a 2014 report, it raised particular concerns with intimidation, arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention of political activists, writers and bloggers. It also reported harassment and violence against some religious groups.
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