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UN voices 'profound concern' over Australia boat claims

Published on Jul 3, 2014 11:38 PM

SYDNEY (AFP) - The UN expressed "profound concern" Thursday over reports that Australia was screening Sri Lankan asylum-seekers at sea and handing them over to Colombo, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott denied breaking international law.

Concern has been mounting over the fate of two boats, one reportedly carrying 153 Tamil Sri Lankan asylum-seekers and another with 50 on board, intercepted in recent days by the Australian navy in Australian waters.

Under its policy of not commenting on "operational matters", Canberra has refused to confirm the boats exist, sparking criticism from the media, rights advocates and the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

"UNHCR has followed with profound concern recent reports in the media and from the community in relation to the interception at sea of individuals who may be seeking Australia's protection," the agency said in a statement.

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