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Stateless refugee facing indefinite detention

  • 22 February 2019


The Australian government has accepted that a stateless refugee — detained since arriving as a child in 2013 — faces indefinite detention, after taking over two years to reject his visa application.

Despite facing no criminal charges, Ahmad Shalikhan, 21, was refused by Immigration Minister David Coleman, due to a risk he would 'engage in criminal conduct in Australia', thus deeming him to have failed the character test under the Migration Act.

Shalikhan's legal team will appeal the decision. 'It is unacceptable that someone who arrived as a child, and has various cognitive difficulties, should be subjected to detention for this long, and that the government could consider indefinite detention for him,' said director of Human Rights for All, Alison Battisson.

According to Coleman's statement dated 3 January 2019: 'In light of the serious nature of the potential harm, I have found that Mr Shalikhan represents an unacceptable risk to individuals in the Australian community'. This outweighed other considerations including 'Australia's international non-refoulement obligations, the prospects of indefinite detention of Mr Shalikhan and its possible effect on his mental health, and the impact of a refusal decision on his family'.

On 13 February 2019, the High Court of Australia dismissed the case of an allegedly stateless asylum seeker, who was attempting to challenge Australia's system of indefinite detention. After questioning his credibility and discussing the mystery surrounding his identity, the court unanimously found such a challenge 'did not arise'. Known as 'plaintiff M47', the man, in detention for over nine years, was also represented by Battisson.

'We didn't win and we didn't lose — we drew,' she said. 'This means we can keep fighting for M47, if he wants, and there is space for other detainees to bring similar challenges to their lengthy detention. [This case] showed us just how high the bar is set to win freedom. Unfortunately, nine years on its own is apparently not enough.'

A Faili Kurd, who fled Iran by boat aged 16 with his mother, Shalikhan has been detained since arriving on Christmas Island in August 2013. Suffering from a developmental disorder and mental health issues exacerbated by his father's death in Iran, he has in the past attempted suicide and displayed volatile behaviour.


"While no formal punishment was ordered, the incident continues to haunt him, the Minister taking it into consideration 'on the basis that his violent conduct ... has been proven in court'."


The Faili Kurds have long been persecuted