Australian authorities have found all 17 suspected asylum seekers who fled into crocodile-infested mangroves in the Daintree rainforest when their boat ran aground in northern Queensland, the Australian Border Force (ABF) has confirmed.
Some of the men, whose wooden boat was found north of the tourist town of Port Douglas Sunday, have been transported to Christmas Island for offshore processing, CNN affiliate Seven News reported.
Business and industry sectors
Business, economy and trade
Continents and regions
Immigration, citizenship and displacement
International relations and national security
Transportation and warehousing
It had previously been reported that they had been transferred to Darwin.
Two of the 17 men were picked up by local fishermen late Sunday, who gave them some water and cruised up the Daintree river checking crab pots before handing them over to police.
Local crabbers Justin Ward and Barry Preston said they were out in their boat late Sunday afternoon when the two men, who were "stuck in the mangroves" on the edge of the river, flagged them down.
"It would've taken them a few hours to get where they were going. We had some food on the boat but they didn't accept it -- instead they took some water as they must have been thirsty. They were on the boat for about 30 to 45 minutes, while we cruised up the river," Preston told CNN.
He said that while the two men were on board they checked some crab pots and took them back to the boat ramp, calling the police en route.
He says they were "absolutely not expecting them. (It was a) bit of a shock when we saw them, waving on the bank. We saw a couple of crocs up the river, which must have opened their eyes a bit."
Another pair, believed to be the fishing boat's captain and first mate, were taken into custody after being held by the operator of a local river ferry, Nine News reported.
Under current legal settings, no-one who arrives by boat without a visa will be permitted to settle in Australia, regardless of whether or not they are found to be genuine refugees, said Amy Maguire, a senior lecturer at Newcastle University's Faculty of Business and Law, who focuses on the rights of displaced people.
"Australia will assess claims on Christmas Island, but we have very little information about the process of assessment," said Maguire.
Christmas Island is an isolated Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, approximately 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of Java, Indonesia.
"If people are found not to be genuine refugees, Australia will seek to deport them to their countries of origin. If they are found to be genuine refugees, Australia will look for third countries (such as Nauru or Cambodia) to send them to for resettlement as the current setting is absolutely against resettling refugees who arrive by boat without a visa."
The boat is the first "people smuggling venture" to reach Australia in 1,400 days, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton confirmed Monday.
The Australian government keeps a very close count of suspected asylum seeker boats, after a surge in numbers in 2012 and 2013 prompted a crackdown on arrivals under the government's "Operation Sovereign Borders."
The policy reduced the number of boat arrivals from a peak of 20,587 in 2013 to zero, according to a parliamentary research paper released last year
Under international law, people seeking asylum are guaranteed certain rights and protections, but in most cases may only make a claim on landing in the country where they are attempting to gain refugee status. By preventing asylum seekers from reaching Australia, Canberra effectively dodges these obligations.
Instead, the Australian government intercepts boats headed to Australia and moves migrants to offshore detention camps on the Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Detainees within offshore the camps are banned from being settled on the Australian mainland, leaving many without any alternative but remaining in what have been described as "open air prisons."
Last week, a 12-year-old boy was airlifted to Australia for medical attention after refusing food and water for weeks. A 2016 United Nations report found many cases of "attempted suicide, self-immolation, acts of self-harm and depression" among children detained on Nauru.
According to UNICEF, Australia's strict policy has also been hugely costly to the country's taxpayers, running up a bill of at least $7 billion (9.6 billion AUD) "between 2013 and 2016 in maintaining offshore processing, onshore mandatory detention and boat turn-backs."
The Australian government says the operation is necessary to put human traffickers out of business, and stop deaths at sea.