Asylum seekers taken to Nauru amid renewed political stoush over border arrivals

Australia’s offshore processing centre in Nauru (Photo: MSF)

More than 40 asylum seekers have been taken to Nauru after they were found in a remote part of Western Australia.

Guardian Australia has confirmed a second group of 13 asylum seekers was found at an Indigenous campsite at Pender Bay, about an hour after a group of 30 men were found at Beagle Bay on Friday.

Authorities believe both groups arrived on the same boat, although Pender Bay is about 25km north of where the first group was found. According to the Australian and the Sun Herald, the group includes 12 Bangladeshis and one Indian man.

On Sunday the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, told reporters in Nowra that Operation Sovereign Borders was being implemented.

The asylum seekers have been taken to offshore detention on Nauru for processing.

Albanese noted the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders had warned against politicising national security.

“Peter Dutton is someone who is showing, with his overblown rhetoric and with his overreach on this issue, showing that he’s not interested in outcomes or in the Australian national interest,” Albanese said.

The home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, said the government’s commitment to Operation Sovereign Borders “is absolute”.

“Every person who has attempted to reach Australia by boat since I have been minister is back in their home country, or in Nauru, having wasted thousands of dollars and having risked their lives.”

“Comments such as those made by the opposition leader this weekend run directly counter to Australia’s national security. This conduct undermines Operation Sovereign Borders and gives people smugglers the disinformation they need to get people on boats.”

The Australian Border Force said on Friday that it was “undertaking an operation in the north-west of Western Australia” but would not provide any more information while the operation was continuing.

Rear Admiral Brett Sonter, the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, said the “mission … remains the same today as it was when it was established in 2013: protect Australia’s borders, combat people smuggling in our region, and importantly, prevent people from risking their lives at sea”.

“Any alternate narrative will be exploited by criminal people smugglers to deceive potential irregular immigrants and convince them to risk their lives and travel to Australia by boat,” he said.

Labor has maintained the core planks of Operation Sovereign Borders, including offshore detention and turning boats back where safe to do so.

Despite Albanese warning Dutton to heed the “very clear, strong and unequivocal message” sent by Sonter, on Saturday the opposition leader continued to attack the government’s handling of asylum seekers. He claimed there was “no question” it did not support Operation Sovereign Borders.

“I know exactly how these people smugglers work,” Dutto said. “They will react to a weak prime minister and to a weak minister.

“If they see vulnerabilities, they will exploit them, and that’s exactly what has happened here.”

The shadow defence minister, Andrew Hastie, said there had now been 303 people and “12 separate boats” that have arrived since Labor’s election in May 2022.

In October Guardian Australia revealed a group of 11 asylum seekers had been sent to Nauru after reaching Australia, just months after the last people were removed from immigration detention on the Pacific nation. It was the first transfer to Nauru in nine years. In November a group of 12 people who arrived on the Western Australian coast were taken into ABF custody.

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