Two of the boats, one carrying 198 passengers and the other 63, called for assistance on Friday, while a third, with 72 aboard, was later intercepted by an Australian navy vessel.


The suspected asylum seekers were being taken to Christmas Island on Saturday for security, health and identity checks.

Under the federal government’s new offshore processing regime, they could be sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

The latest arrivals have made September a record month for the number of people arriving by boat.

But a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said while people smugglers “continue to test our resolve” the government was still committed to implementing all of the recommendations made by the Houston independent panel.

Its report was given to the government last month, recommending 22 measures on asylum-seeker policy.

“As the minister has already said, there is still some way to go before we see the real effects of these policies,” the spokesperson said on Saturday.

“But we are starting to see positives, such as today’s voluntary return of a Sri Lankan group.”

The government on Saturday announced 28 Sri Lankan men had decided to return home after choosing not to pursue their asylum claims.

The group consists of asylum seekers who arrived both before and after new regional processing arrangements were announced on August 13.

They include two from Nauru, 20 from Christmas Island and six from mainland facilities including Villawood in NSW and Yongah Hill in Western Australia.

Mr Bowen earlier said: “Regular transfers to Nauru and more Sri Lankans returning home is further proof that people smugglers only sell lies and make false promises about what awaits people in Australia”.

Meanwhile, the opposition’s immigration spokesman Scott Morrison is urging the government to put in place arrangements with Sri Lanka to have asylum-seeker boats intercepted outside Australian borders turned back to the southern Asian nation.

This would “send a clear message that Australia’s borders are closed”, Mr Morrison said.

“Safe return policies for Vietnamese were a key part of the regional response to the Indochinese refugee crisis in the late 1980s,” he said.

“There is no reason why similar policies cannot now be put in place in Sri Lanka.”