High Court challenge moves against life boat refugee policy

A HIGH Court challenge brought by 157 Tamil asylum seekers should still go ahead, after the hopeful refugees were told to operate orange life boats to return to India almost three weeks ago.

Lawyers for the asylum seekers on Monday said they were told nine adults among the group were told to use the lifeboats to return on or around July 14, when hearings of the court case were underway.

The Human Rights Law Centre's executive director Hugh de Kretser said it was unclear why the plan to force them on the boats was abandoned, but it revealed the Abbott government was willing to go to "desperate measures".

Those asylum seekers had been held on the high seas for about a month, before being transferred to the Curtin onshore detention centre and again last week to the Nauru offshore centre.

Mr de Kretser said the group was "terrified" they would be "dumped on the high seas" after being told how to operate the lifeboats in mid-July.

But Immigration Minister Scott Morrison took to 2GB Radio in Sydney to refute the claims, saying that it seemed the Sri Lankan asylum seekers had rejected an offer to return them to India.

He said the point was that the government had not tried to send them back to Sri Lanka, as they had come from India, and that they would not be settled in Australia.

But Mr de Kretser said the government's behaviour in responding to the asylum seekers was "trashing the foundations of Australia's democracy".

"I was struck that despite everything they had been through, our clients thanked the Australian Government for bringing them to the Australian mainland," he said.

"Now they've been secretly transferred to Nauru and given the reports of the state they arrived in, I'm deeply concerned about their wellbeing."

He said despite the asylum seekers being transferred to Nauru, it should not affect the court case.