Refugee Advocates Applaud Asylum Injunction
8 July 2014 at 12:13 pm
Peak refugee advocacy Not for Profit, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), says it’s greatly encouraged by the High Court injunction to block the Federal Government sending back Sri Lankan asylum seekers intercepted at sea.
The High Court in Canberra temporarily blocked the Coalition Government from handing back to Sri Lanka 153 asylum seekers intercepted at sea, amid growing international objections to the tough immigration policies.
Law firm Shine, who represents 48 of the 153 people aboard one of the boats, won the injunction in a special hearing late on Monday after Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that 41 asylum seekers had been returned to Sri Lanka, in a move which has fuelled international criticism of Australia's hard-line immigration policy.
“The Australian and Sri Lankan Governments have moved swiftly to return a group of 41 Sri Lankan nationals who attempted to arrive illegally by boat to Australia as part of a maritime people smuggling venture,” Morrison said.
The injunction will remain in place until an emergency court hearing on Tuesday afternoon, and follows the interception and return on Sunday of 41 other Sri Lankan asylum seekers on a separate boat by the Australian navy.
RCOA Chief Executive Officer Paul Power said he was extremely concerned by the “enhanced screening” process, which involves immigration department officials asking just four basic questions before determining the refugee status of asylum seekers.
“Under this processing regime, asylum seekers are isolated from independent advice, support and information to assist them in navigating a complex legal system,” Power said.
“In the case of the 41 asylum seekers returned at sea by Australia to Sri Lanka after a rudimentary examination of their refugee claim, the interviews were conducted by officials thousands of kilometres away.
“Asylum seekers traumatised by their persecution and a perilous boat journey on the high seas are not in any fit state to make a coherent and thorough account of their claim for refugee protection. In this situation, they require information, legal advice and specialised trauma support.
“The Abbott Government’s changes to refugee status determination are designed to make it as difficult as possible to asylum seekers to receive a fair hearing.
“Denying asylum seekers the time and resources they need to properly present their need for refugee protection can lead to errors, which for asylum seekers can be the difference between life and death.
“What kind of process confirms a case for refugee protection but ends with an individual voluntarily returning to face the persecution they fled?
“The Australian public is entitled to know what options for refugee protection were given. Trust in our legal institutions rests on an understanding that our processes are robust, fair and independent, particularly when someone’s life is at stake.”
It has been reported that Sri Lankan police have claimed that the 41 asylum seekers would be charged with leaving the country illegally and any found guilty would face "rigorous imprisonment", raising concerns about rights abuses.
Also on Monday, 53 Australian legal scholars said the country's policy "raises a real risk" of breaching its obligations under international refugee and human rights law.
"These people are being held on the high seas, without being allowed to contact lawyers, challenge their detention in court or speak with family and friends," Ben Saul, law professor at Sydney University, said.
“We are profoundly concerned by reports that asylum seekers are being subjected to rapid and inadequate screening interviews at sea and returned to Sri Lanka.
"This raises a real risk of refoulement in breach of Australia’s obligations under international refugee and human rights law.”