" --IANS/EFE"
Sydney, July 25 (IANS/EFE) Australian authorities Friday said they will transfer to the mainland 157 asylum seekers detained offshore in an Australian customs ship so that at least the Indians among them can be identified.

The detainees are being held since their boat was intercepted near Christmas islands July 7, and are now in a legal limbo.

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, ABC channel quoted Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison as saying.

The entire group, including several children, will be taken to Cocos islands by boat and from there by plane to Curtin Immigration Detention Centre, in a remote area in Western Australia.

Morrison has just returned from India, where he held meetings with Indian officials in New Delhi over the issue.

The minister said if any of the asylum seekers are found to be Indian citizens, they will be returned to India.

He added that those who are neither Indian nationals or residents will not remain in Australia.

He denied that the transfer was linked to a pending appeal challenging the detentions in an Australian court, whose decision is expected in August.

The majority of the group of asylum seekers are believed to have fled from Sri Lanka before boarding an Indian boat bound for Australia in June.

International law expert Don Rothwell said bringing the detainees to the mainland would give them the capacity to make asylum claims.

The Australian government has been severely criticised for its secrecy regarding the status of the group and for processing their asylum petitions at sea itself.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), petitions requesting political asylum should be processed in the country that intercepts such vessels.

--IANS/EFE

ab/dg


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