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What will become of asylum seekers?

157 mostly Tamil asylum seekers from India and Sri Lanka were held at sea for over a month and are denied the right to have their claims for refugee status processed on Christmas Island. The customs vessel contained 157 people who are being held in three different rooms. An appeal was lodged on behalf of one of the male asylum seekers on board, to the High Court.  The government states that the asylum seekers were permitted “approximately three hours’ outside during the day in natural light for meals”, and families are being kept separately.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday 25th July, that the group of mostly Tamil asylum seekers, who have been held on a Customs vessel on the high seas for almost a month, would be taken to Cocos Island on 26th July then flown to the Curtin Detention Centre in remote Western Australia. The group arrived on Monday 28th. The group will undergo identity checks from Indian consular officials and none will be resettled in Australia. India has agreed to take back any of its citizens and will consider taking Sri Lankan nationals who are Indian non-citizen residents. About 66,000 Sri Lankan Tamils have been living in 110 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu for years, some since the 1980s. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he was confident they were economic migrants and not entitled to asylum.

These people have come from a safe country of India. They haven’t come from Sri Lanka. If we can’t take people back to India, what is next? New Zealand? India are a vibrant democracy, they are a good partner, they’re working closely with us.

Refugee lawyers are in uproar.

1) Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre executive director David Manne said

It is a fundamental principle of refugee protection that people should not have to deal with officials from the country they have fled from. People who are seeking protection should never be put in a position where they are exposed to officials from another country without a proper assessment first being made of their claims of persecution. It is completely unclear what proper role Indian officials have interviewing Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

Human rights lawyer George Newhouse, who has represented 48 asylum seekers in a High Court challenge against their detention at sea, said he was concerned confidential information about the asylum seekers would be handed to Indian officials, he said

This is policy and process on the run – it’s dangerous.

Mr Newhouse said the government’s decision had not affected the High Court challenge, which is due to be heard by the full bench of the High Court on August 5.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre chief executive officer Kon Karapanagiotidis said

It’s unheard of – giving another government access to asylum seekers. If a person is found to be a citizen of a safe third country, that person will not be accepted as a refugee and will be returned home, so that’s the role of the legal process, not the role of bringing in another government to do that. It’s deeply problematic and I don’t think it’s fair. I question whether it is legal, and we have a legal process to deal with those questions.

Some points to reflect on that damn the Australian government for stupidity:

  1. 36 children, including babies, have been detained in windowless rooms for almost a month, separated from their fathers, after already being at sea for more than a fortnight on a boat that broke down;
  2. tremendous cost of keeping the 157 asylum seekers at sea on the customs vessel for a month, including the overtime paid to the crew; and the cost of defending a case in the High Court; and of sending officials to meet them in the Cocos Islands; and flying them to detention in Perth;
  3. the Australian government argued in the High Court that it had no obligation to ask the asylum seekers what they seeking and asserted that it could take them wherever it wished;
  4. Morrisson made a visit to New Delhi to ask the Indian government to take the asylum seekers, thus spending precious political capital on this non-issue;
  5. Another boat carrying 41 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka were given a compressed form of screening before being handed over to Sri Lanka. The blunt process of shortened questioning, often without access to lawyers, in use since 2012 has been condemned by the UN refugee agency. On July 7th, 53 legal scholars from 17 Australian universities declared jointly that Australia’s “reported conduct under Operation Sovereign Borders clearly violates international law”.



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This entry was posted on August 4, 2014 by in Giving and tagged , , , , , , , .
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