SYDNEY, Australia (ABC News Online, Nov. 6) - The Supreme Court in Darwin has been told that 14 suspected Turkish asylum seekers are no longer in Australia.

Lawyers in Darwin lodged an application to allow the asylum seekers to apply for refugee status

However, lawyers for the Federal Government have told the court the asylum seekers are now outside Australia, are not in custody or detention, and are free to go anywhere they like except Australia.

Earlier, Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone said she would not say what options the Government was considering for the 14 suspected asylum seekers.

The Minister had said a naval patrol boat was holding the group on their fishing boat near the island.

The Government said they were ethnic Kurds from Turkey.

Interpreters were sent to the vessel to help Australian Federal Police and Immigration officials interview them.

Senator Vanstone said the Government would only reveal its plans after a decision on the people had been made.

But she said the Government suspected they were helped by people smugglers.

"Identification papers on the boat were damaged in that they were stored in an oil drum along with parts from one of the engines sought to be made non-functional, and that is a typical indicator or a typical sign of people associated with people smuggling - that identity documents are destroyed," Senator Vanstone said.

The Federal Opposition has accused the Government of covering up information about the suspected asylum seekers.

Labor spokeswoman Nicola Roxon says the Government was withholding information.

"Surely, they have enough information to be able to tell us are these people seeking asylum, where is the boat, where are they from, and the sorts of practical details that we're entitled to know," Ms Roxon said.

November 7, 2003

ABC News Online: http://abc.net.au/news/


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