Last-Minute Appeal For Christmas Island Detainees

Last-minute appeal for Christmas Is detainees

By David Weber
The ABC News (Australia), October 3, 2009

Refugee advocates are trying to use a last minute Federal Court appeal to stop a group of asylum seekers being sent back to Sri Lanka.

The five men would be the first forced to be deported from Christmas Island since Labor came to power.

They were part of a group who arrived in a boat at Western Australia's Shark Bay in November.

Several of them actually swam ashore before returning to their boat.

Because they made it into Australia's migration zone they have greater rights of appeal than those who did not make it that far.

One of the men says he served time with the Sri Lankan intelligence services and says he will be killed if he is sent back.

The spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul, says this group is distinctive from other asylum seekers in the past.

'They've refused to sign any papers voluntarily agreeing to go back to Sri Lanka and that's what I think makes this particular group very distinctive,' he said.

'There have been people who have signed papers previously… the others have said they won't sign. It's too dangerous for them to go back to Sri Lanka and they won't go voluntarily.'

There were nine Sri Lankans opposing deportation. In the past 24 hours four of them have agreed to go. The others want to appeal to the Federal Court.

Mr Rintoul claims the Sri Lankans were not told they had this option.

'They've got access to Australian law in a way in which the people who are picked up at sea do not have,' he said.

'So we've got a situation where the Government has not only kept them for 11 months, it's denied them knowledge about their actual rights under Australian law and is now attempting to remove them.

'We could easily have the absurd situation where this afternoon or tomorrow the Federal Court will intervene and say these people cannot be removed. Their appeal will be heard by the Federal Court.

'The Government will have wasted a huge amount of money, inflicted even more misery for no end result.'

But the Immigration Minister says the men have been turned down by the department, the Refugee Review Tribunal and by him.

Senator Chris Evans says no new information has been put forward to help their cases.

'They'd be the first group of people in recent times who have been removed from Australia who were unauthorised boat arrivals,' he said.

'We of course remove people regularly who may have arrived by air or breached their visa conditions.'

The Refugee Action Coalition says that they were not told of their right to appeal to the Federal Court but Senator Evans says that is not true.

They say they will die if they are sent back but Senator Evans says their claims have already been assessed.

'What I have said to you clearly is that the department made an initial assessment of their refugee claims,' he said.

'The Refugee Review Tribunal then assessed their claims and then they filed ministerial interventions with me which were also rejected.

'They have had the full processes available to them under Australian law and they have been found not to be refugees, not to be owed Australia's protection.'

Opposition spokeswoman Sharman Stone has renewed her call for an independent inquiry into the border protection policy.

'Certainly those who are processed onshore who went through the migration or Refugee Review Tribunal then on to the courts, they had their day in court and they weren't found to be refugees but rather they were seeking a better life,' she said.

'We can understand why they would have given that a try. Those who are coming through the people smugglers to date I don't believe any have been found not to be refugees.

'The point we make though as a Coalition in Opposition is that the government of the day should be choosing who comes into Australia as refugees or humanitarian settlers.'

Ms Stone says the Government's policies have unravelled strong deterrents that had previously been in place.

'We have opposed every single measure, we've voted against it in Parliament, that has led to the unravelling of what we had which were strong deterrents, strong immigration border control and asylum seeker management,' she said.

But she would not specify the Opposition's current border protection policies.

'We're not in government. The problem right now is what this Government is doing. They are busy unravelling what we had which was strong detention, detection, deterrent measures,' she said.