Government to interview Nauru detainees
The Age (Melbourne)
June 27, 2007 – 12:33PM
Immigration officers will next month interview seven Burmese asylum seekers detained in Nauru, a High Court judge has been told.
The men, who were dropped at Ashmore Reef by people-smugglers in August, have taken the Australian Government to court, alleging its refusal to consider their applications for refugee visas was unlawful.
Today in the High Court, Chris Horan, for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, said departmental officers and interpreters would travel to Nauru to interview the men between July 12 and 20.
He said a delegate for the minister would then review their applications, and decide whether to grant or refuse offshore humanitarian visas.
Mr Horan and Debbie Mortimer, SC, who is representing the men, then sought an adjournment of the High Court proceedings.
Justice Kenneth Hayne reviewed Mr Horan's submissions, saying it would be an “unfortunate outcome” if the parties went away from today's hearing with different interpretations of what had been said.
Last month The Age reported that the seven were Muslims from Burma's Rohingya minority. The men have said they would be persecuted if they were returned home or sent to Malaysia, where they lived after fleeing Burma.
But in December, the Immigration Department told the men they would be able to resettle with their families under Australia's offshore humanitarian program only if they returned to Malaysia to have their refugee status claims assessed.
Alternatively, they could have their claims assessed in Nauru, but resettlement in Australia would not be an option. Instead, a third country would be sought.
The men have refused to return to Malaysia, where they could face arrest, detention and deportation, according to Refugees International, a US-based advocacy group.
Documents lodged in the High Court alleged that processing the asylum seekers on Nauru, with no prospect of them being resettled in Australia, was not lawful under the Migration Act.
They alleged immigration officials refused to interview the men about their visa applications when they visited Nauru on April 20.
The alleged reasons for this refusal were:
To pressure the asylum seekers to return to Malaysia; to pressure them to accept being processed on Nauru, where they have no legally enforceable rights; to prevent them obtaining visas allowing them to travel to Australia from Nauru and to prevent them asking for their applications for refugee visas to be reviewed in an Australian court if they were refused.
The documents said that none of these were lawful reasons for Mr Andrews to refuse to consider the visa applications, and sought orders to compel consideration.
Outside court, the detainees' Melbourne lawyer, David Manne, said he welcomed the government's decision, which was announced 36 weeks after six of the seven men lodged their visa applications. The seventh applicant lodged his paperwork 28 weeks ago, Mr Manne said.
“They remain in a very precarious situation. They are very concerned and distressed about the uncertainty and delay,” he said.
“This is an important step in giving them a fair go (by) having their cases decided under Australian legal rules in their bid (to live in Australia) in safety and security.”
with Jewel Topsfield