Cruising the Indian Ocean for a month is a dream holiday
for many. For 157 Tamil asylum seekers, it has been a cruel state
of limbo. The High Court may now need to consider whether the
Australian Government's treatment of a recent boatload of
asylum seekers constitutes unlawful detention.
The good as can be news
The Australian Government now admits that they did in fact
intercept the boat (ground breaking!) and had not returned the
Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka. The Government maintains they
were treated better than most junior lawyers, being allowed out for
meals and given 3 hours of sunlight per day. Now after a month at
sea the asylum seekers have been taken to an onshore processing
facility in Curtin, WA.
The bad news
Without any formal assessment of the merits of their claims, the
Australian Government now says that the asylum seekers are only
economic refugees. It proposes to have the interviews of the asylum
seekers conducted by Indian personnel, and has reportedly entered
into an arrangement with the Indian government to return many of
the asylum seekers to India.
We hope that if this happens, the administrative processes set
up to protect asylum seekers in Australia are strictly followed.
Otherwise there is the real risk (in our view) of claims not being
properly determined, and asylum seekers being sent back to the very
countries where their lives are in danger.
What next for the High Court?
Now that the asylum seekers have been brought to Australia,
their lawyers are asking the High Court to address the question of
whether the asylum seekers were 'falsely imprisoned' by the
Australian Government. The argument goes that the Australian
Government didn't have power to detain the asylum seekers at
sea, so the detention was unlawful. If so, they may be entitled to
damages from the Government.
As the urgency behind the protection of the asylum seekers (and
Australia's reputation) has passed, it is likely that the
matter will be passed back to the Federal Court, being the usual
court to hear this type of claim. If this happens, it will be a
little while before the fate of the asylum seekers will be settled.
We'll know more later this week, when the matter is yet again
before the High Court.
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