The United Nations has called on the Abbott Government to properly consider claims for protection from asylum seekers amid allegations Australian authorities are attempting to return more than 200 boat people to Sri Lanka.
In a rare intervention into Australian politics, the UN Refugee Agency said it had "profound concerns" about reports Australia was moving to hand a group of asylum seekers over to the Sri Lankan navy.
_The Weekend West _revealed last Saturday that Australia had intercepted two asylum seeker vessels, one carrying almost 150 people and another carrying about 50 passengers.
Both groups are believed to be Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka.
The new arrivals are a major challenge to the Abbott Government's hardline border protection regime.
"The UNHCR has followed with profound concern recent reports in relation to the interception at sea of individuals who may be seeking Australia's protection," the UNHCR said.
"When boats presumed to be carrying asylum-seekers are intercepted, UNHCR's position is that requests for international protection should be considered within the territory of the intercepting state, consistent with fundamental refugee protection principles."
The UNHCR said though it did not have official confirmation Australia was moving to hand over the asylum seekers, it warned that anything short of a proper asylum assessment process could be putting lives in danger.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted that "everything" done on the high seas was consistent with Australia's international obligations.
"The public deserve safe and secure borders. They deserve a country which has not become open for the wrong kind of business - the people smuggling business," he said.