BEIRUT: Australia said Thursday two Lebanese nationals who tried to get into the country illegally by boat had returned to Lebanon voluntarily, with the country’s immigration minister saying their decision was a message to anyone planning the same: Don’t do it.
The two Lebanese returned home voluntarily from Manus Island, where they were taken after being caught trying to get into Australia.
They arrived in Lebanon on Dec. 24, according to a statement released by the Australian Embassy in Beirut, which said the news “sends a strong message to those from Lebanon considering illegal travel by boat to Australia.”
Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian government’s message was clear: “You should not come because you will not be allowed to stay.”
The statement quoted him as saying: “Lebanese nationals who have arrived by boat understand they will not be settled in Australia ... Anyone who arrives by boat illegally will be sent to Papua New Guinea or Nauru.”
Morrison said those seeking to immigrate to the country in such a way were wasting their time and their money: “There is no Australian visa for those who come illegally by boat.”
Two months ago, at least 17 Lebanese, including a number of children, drowned on their way to Australia in a boat accident off the coast of Indonesia.
The bodies, mostly from the impoverished northern region of Akkar, were repatriated to Lebanon.
Survivors and their families have spoken about a group of smugglers headed by an Iraqi that charged each person between $3,000 and $5,000 to make on the trip.