Three boatloads of suspected asylum seekers have been intercepted by Australian authorities in the past week, and 128 people have been sent for offshore processing in line with the government’s new measures to combat people smuggling.
The first vessel was found on Tuesday carrying 18 people from India, who are being interviewed in Darwin, Operation Sovereign Borders acting commander Air Marshall Mark Binskin told reporters on Monday.
The group is expected to be returned to India.
Seven West Papuans were dropped off on an Australian island in the Torres Strait on Wednesday.
“All seven persons were returned to Papua New Guinea on Thursday,” Air Marshall Binskin said.
On Thursday, 70 people from a third boat were transferred to detention on Christmas Island.
Air Marshall Binskin was giving an update on border protection operations on Monday where he said 128 asylum seekers had been transferred to offshore processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru during the week.
He made only brief reference to a vessel intercepted overnight on Sunday, which carried 78 people, but was detected outside the weekly reporting period.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the arrivals for the latest period included two nationality groups, which were subject to a different process to asylum seekers automatically taken to Manus Island or Nauru.
“A first group of Indian nationals is currently being interviewed by their own consular officers in Darwin and they will be removed directly back to India,” Mr Morrison said.
“A second group of West Papuans were transferred back to PNG on Thursday within 24 hours of arrival under a concession provided by the PNG government under a 2003 memorandum of understanding put in place by the Howard government, to enable returns in these circumstances.”
The group of seven West Papuans, believed to be a family including one child, arrived on Boigu Island on Wednesday by speedboat and said they feared persecution after being returned to PNG.
Mr Morrison said he had reached a formal agreement with his PNG counterparts to ensure the prompt return of other asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by similar circumstances.
During his visit last week to Manus Island, Mr Morrison delivered a “clear message” to detainees.
“They will not be getting what they came for,” he said.
“They would remain there at that centre until they went home, or were settled in a country other than Australia.
“I confirmed that the new government had implemented a more comprehensive and strengthened set of measures that we would not be putting up with people coming to Australia illegally by boat and that they should warn others not to follow them.”
Under the government’s policy, asylum seekers are moved from Christmas Island to offshore detention facilities within 48 hours of their arrival.
Mr Morrison said the target was being achieved and “working well”, and health checks were being undertaken.
“The most important for their welfare is their fitness to fly,” he said.
Asked about vaccinations, Mr Morrison said it was his understanding these were being done on Manus or Nauru.