Asylum seekers returned directly to Sri Lanka?


Refugee advocates and the Tamil community are increasingly concerned that a boat load of 153 Tamil asylum seekers has been handed over the the Sri Lankan navy.

There was regular contact with the boat from last Thursday to last Saturday morning, when communication ceased.

On Thursday the boat started leaking oil. On Friday they were almost running out of water and some of the younger people were not well. One adult also was “facing some physical conditions”.

The Government is refusing to comment on whether the boat even exists.

Daniel Webb, Director of the Human Rights Legal Centre, says that if refugees are returned directly to the place they are fleeing from without their claims being processed there can be no clearer breach of our obligations under the Refugee Convention.

The fact that the boat may be in international waters has no relevance. The idea that the asylum seekers’ claims could be assessed in transit is ludicrous.

Turning boats back to Sri Lanka is completely different to turning them back to Indonesia, which is a transit country and as such not the source of the fear of persecution or worse.

The Guardian says that:

Sri Lankan asylum seekers are subject to the “enhanced screening process” in Australia, which has been condemned by the UNHCR as an “unfair and unreliable” process for determining refugee claims as it involves short interviews, often without the presence of a lawyer.


In October, Morrison said he was “completely comfortable about the process”, adding: “If you’re coming here to try something on to get access to Australia from Sri Lanka, you’ll go straight back.”

Surely asylum seekers would not be subject to ‘enhanced screening’ in transit!

The Sri Lankan high commissioner in Canberra said he had not been informed by the Australian government of the boat’s existence and hence he was in no position to comment.

The boat actually departed from India and the nationality of all on board in unclear. India is not a signatory to the refugee convention.

The image above is from AAP courtesy of SBS who report that the Sri Lankan military says it’s unaware of any arrangements with Australia to return asylum seekers.

From the SMH on Monday:

Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition, said it had become apparent that Australia had intercepted the asylum seekers.

“It has been 48 hours and under Scott Morrison’s own rules he would have had to announce there had been an incident at sea by now, so you can assume they have been taken off their boat.”

More generally, I reported last week, the Government is introducing new rules for assessing asylum seekers:

  • People arriving without travel documents will be refused protection visas unless they can provide a “reasonable explanation” for not having identification.
  • A lower threshold for assessing harm to returning asylum seekers who have sought complementary protection, where the chance of harm is more than 50%.
  • Asylum seekers who have arrived by boat will be refused visas unless the minister determines “it is in the public interest to allow them to do so”.

As SBS highlights, this means that asylum seekers facing a 49% chance of death or torture could be sent home. Surely the cross bench in the Senate will vote the legislation down.

While it is too early to rush to judgement in the case of the Tamils, Scott Morrison never ceases to appal so nothing would surprise.

Morrison_Sowhothebloodyhellareyou _500

I’m not sure of the source of that image which I had on file, but it has the title Sowhothebloodyhellareyou!