Tamil Asylum Seeker Claims Go to High Court
21 August 2014 at 11:44 am
Asylum seeker lawyers have won the right to proceed to a full bench hearing of the High Court to challenge to the Federal Government's powers to detain and turn back asylum seekers at sea.
Lawyers for 157 Tamils, who have been transferred to the Nauru detention centre, claim the asylum seekers were falsely imprisoned on an Australian Customs ship for a month and are contesting the Government's power to detain them.
Today, the High Court has ruled that the proceeding will go ahead with Justice Kenneth Hayne setting a two-day hearing for October 14 in Canberra.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said 157 people – including 50 children – spent nearly a month on a boat in the middle of the ocean with no idea where they were or where the Australian Government was going to send them, and that case will examine serious questions about whether their treatment was legal.
“First and foremost, this case is about bringing some much needed legal scrutiny to bear on whether the treatment of our clients was legal,” Webb said.
Shine Lawyers Special Counsel George Newhouse said it was important to have clarification from the High Court about any limitations on the Government’s powers on the high seas.
“There are important and untested questions at the heart of the case which, given the Government’s policy of boat turn backs, may well have broader implications,” Newhouse said.
The legal team has also revealed more details about the forcible transfer of the 157 asylum seekers to Nauru.
The HRLC said it had spoken directly to a number of the Tamil asylum seekers now detained on Nauru and Daniel Webb said he was deeply concerned about the group’s wellbeing and the circumstances in which they were forcibly and secretively transferred offshore.
“They were together eating a meal, then suddenly they were rounded up, split into three groups and taken to separate locations. Once there, they were told they were going to Nauru and asked to sign forms. Many of them were crying and pleading to speak with their lawyers. Their requests were refused and they were told they were going to Nauru whether they liked it or not,” Webb said.
He says the families were then forcibly put on buses and taken to the airport.
“These people had just spent almost a month locked in windowless rooms on a boat. Now they were being forced onto buses by guards under the cover of darkness and refused access to their lawyers. They were terrified.”
Webb said the ordeal has taken its toll on all members of the group but expressed particular concern as to the impact on the children.
“There are 50 children in this group who have endured a truly wretched few months. First they were detained at sea. Then they were secretly and forcibly taken away to Nauru. Now they’re languishing in detention on a remote Pacific island in conditions the UN has described as inhumane and unsuitable for children. So obviously we’re extremely concerned about their wellbeing,” he said.
The Tamil group was intercepted after leaving Pondicherry in India in June.