Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed a group of asylum seekers being detained on a Customs ship are set to be transferred to an onshore detention centre.
The 157 asylum seekers will be taken from Cocos Islands to the Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia.
The boat carrying the Sri Lankan men, women and children is said to have left India early last month and was intercepted by an Australian vessel about three weeks ago.
They will be held until Indian consular officials have had the opportunity to speak to them about their possible return.
“It is our intention those who can be returned should and must be returned,” Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
India has agreed to take back any of its citizens and will consider taking Sri Lankan nationals who are Indian non-citizen residents.
Lawyers for one of the asylum seekers went to the High Court to challenge the legality of their detention on the high seas.
The lawyers are seeking a court order preventing the Federal Government from sending the asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, Nauru, or Papua New Guinea.
Instead, the group wants to be sent to Australia or another country that “has assumed the international law non-refoulement obligations”.
Lawyers also want the court to declare that the Government acted unlawfully and abused its powers.
In a defence statement filed to the court, the Federal Government said the people on board the vessel did not hold visas entitling them to travel to or enter Australia.
It also refused to admit the people on board are entitled to claim asylum from any country.
Immigration Minister Morrison has just returned from India, where the boat originated. The whereabouts of the Customs boat and the welfare of those on board have been closely guarded secrets by government officials.
Mr Morrison, who finalised the deal with Indian government figures earlier in the week, said the people on board the vessel were receiving “excellent care”.
He would not go into details of the asylum seekers’ nationalities.
“That is a matter now that Indian consular officials will work through,” he said.
“They have requested that access. They will be given that access and will await their process to be completed.”
The minister ruled out any of the asylum seekers being resettled in Australia.
“They won’t remain in Australia. They will not be resettled in Australia,” he said.
Mr Morrison said there was no change to the government’s policy “on any front and more importantly there is no change to our resolve”.
He denied the High Court challenge had any influence on the decision and would not go into details as to whether the asylum seekers would be flown from Cocos Islands to the Curtin detention centre in Western Australia.