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Boat people detention illegal
Asylum seekers on Cocos Island. Picture: Pam Jones / Cocos Birds

Asylum seekers detained for almost four weeks on a Customs vessel will sue the Commonwealth for false imprisonment.

The 157 asylum seekers, including 50 children, became the first boat people in seven months to reach the mainland when they were taken to the Curtin detention centre in WA on Sunday.

Their detention on a Customs ship was to be contested at a High Court hearing next week but Justice Kenneth Hayne yesterday allowed their lawyers to change their claims to false imprisonment.

"The main case which tests the legality of the Government's actions - whether it was legal or not to take these asylum seekers away from Australia, detain them at sea for a month - remains," their lawyer Hugh de Kretser said.

They will seek compensation for their detention at sea.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the asylum seekers were no more than "economic migrants". He also attacked critics of hardline border protection policies as "surrender monkeys".

Mr Morrison said the group had no reason to claim asylum. "We are talking about people who are seeking to come to Australia from a safe country of India and the suggestion that they are anything other than economic migrants, I think, defies belief and credibility," he said.

Their boat left Pondicherry in India on or about June 29 and was intercepted about 27km north-west of Christmas Island on June 29.

India's High Commissioner to Australia Biren Nanda said consulate staff would go to Curtin and offer to repatriate Indian nationals.

Refugee lawyer David Manne said India had no proper role in processing the group because it was a "fundamental principle of refugee law" that no one should have to deal with officials from a country from which they might have fled.

Cricket great Glenn McGrath has supported asylum seekers after being attacked for signing cricket bats Mr Morrison used to curry favour with the Indian Government.

The 563 Test-wicket taker told his 355,000 Twitter followers: "I do support asylum seekers & have compassion for humanity. I have always tried to help people but I sign a bat & I'm labelled otherwise?!!"

The West Australian

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