Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Australia supplying alleged refugee persecutors

  • 11 July 2014

While Immigration Minister Scott Morrison sits with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and hands over customs vessels to the Sri Lankan Government for use in preventing people escaping Sri Lanka, the High Court is deciding whether a group of 158 Sri Lankans can be returned to the Sri Lankan Government. How did we get to the stage where we are supplying the alleged persecutors with the means of stopping people from escaping and seeking our protection?

The fundamentalist approach to enforcing the slogan ‘stop the boats’ avoids addressing what are some of the key humanitarian issues – protection of refugees and treating asylum seekers with dignity. You can save lives at sea and not set up a system that punishes those you have just saved, the two issues are only connected because of the Government has so demonised asylum seekers arriving by boat, that punishing them seems acceptable to the public.  

The militarisation of the process allows secrecy to prevail and a complete lack of accountability.  It is only because of the High Court that we have any idea what is happening to those intercepted at sea.  Labor introduced the flawed enhanced screening process, which was undertaken onshore.  Thanks to the Coalition we have the new simplified version, which can be done at sea, all trying to avoid the risk that the asylum seekers might actually somehow get some advice about their rights and have a chance to better present their claims.  Even the UNHCR has criticised the process, of enhanced screening at sea.

Since the High Court ruled invalid the declaration by the Minister limiting the number of visas to be granted, the Minister responded by stating he would apply the ‘national interest’ test in the regulations.   This regulation has existed for a long time, but is rarely used.  I have not heard of a single case in 17 years of practice.  There is little if any law on it, and even fewer policy guidelines.  

Asylum seekers will be invited to argue why their receiving a permanent visa is in the national interest.  Given that the Minister has consistently said that no-one arriving by boat would ever get a permanent visa, how genuine and unbiased is the process? 

Meanwhile applicants are in a limbo, where no visas are being issued, some are kept in detention to move them to Nauru or Manus, others exist in a subsistence way in the community