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Australia must give 72 hours' notice before

returning 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers


Tony Abbott's government has already faced international condemnation for
sending back a grou of !1 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka
ANDREW BUNCOMBE -TUESDAY 08 JULY 2014
The government of Australia has promised it will not return 153 asylum
seekers to Sri Lanka without providing 72 hours notice an undertaking activists said
was a minor victory in a long!running "attle#
The government of "rime #inister Tony Abbott told an emergency court hearing in
Sydney the asylum seekers $ould for no$ remain in Australian custody% on the high
seas&
#r Abbott is facing intense condemnation after his government confirmed it had at the
$eekend handed a boatload of asylum seekers to the government of Sri Lanka $here
they no$ face 'rigorous imrisonment(&
After days of silence on the fate of around 2)) Sri Lankan asylum*seekers reortedly
interceted by the Australians last month% the government on #onday said !1 of them
had been assessed and transferred to the Sri Lankan authorities at sea&
+n a statement% Australia,s immigration minister Scott #orrison said the !1 Sri
Lankans had been interceted by ersonnel from the border atrol off the -ocos
+slands in the +ndian .cean in late /une& After an assessment at sea re0ected their
claims for asylum% they $ere handed over on Sunday to the Sri Lankan authorities off
the Sri Lankan ort of 1atticaloa&
.n Tuesday% a hearing of the 2igh -ourt in Sydney $as ad0ourned to allo$ the
government to meet $ith reresentatives for 153 asylum seekers from a second boat 3
including $omen and children 3 to discuss $hat should haen to them&
A la$yer for the Australian government told the court the grou $as interceted 12
miles from Australia and outside the country,s migration 4one% according to the
5euters ne$s agency& They are no$ on an Australian navy vessel on the high seas% the
la$yer said&
Australia has for several years been toughening its stance to$ards asylum seekers and
migrants% and imlementing a olicy of turning their boats around& A number of boats
have casi4ed on their $ay to Australia and do4ens of eole have dro$ned&
6et this is the first time during so*called .eration Sovereign 1orders the government
has admitted that it made an assessment of claims $hile still on the ocean& The move
has been $idely criticised and there are fears that the asylum seekers 3 many of $hom
claim to be members of Sri Lanka,s Tamil minority 3 could face ersecution&
The government has been trying to hide its mistreatment and violation of human
rights behind a cloak of secrecy%( +an 5intoul% of the 5efugee Action -ommittee
Sydney% told The +ndeendent&
2e claimed #r Abbott $as trying to halt his declining aroval ratings by laying
tough on immigration& 'Sri Lanka is kno$n for its violations of human rights& +f $e can
sto that% $e are hay%( he added&
Last $eek a flurry of reorts emerged that t$o boats of Sri Lankan refugees making
their $ay to$ards Australia had been interceted by the Australians&
+t is understood that the boat containing !1 eole had come directly from Sri Lanka
$hile the second vessel% containing 153 eole% had set off from "ondicherry% on the
southern +ndian coast&
+t is thought many of those on board $ere Sri Lankan Tamils $ho $ere living in
refugee cams in the +ndian state of Tamil 7adu& .thers may have crossed the "alk
Strait to 0oin the boat in southern +ndia& The +ndian government has yet to comment
on the issue&
Australia says it has been confronted by a flood of $ould*be migrants from Sri Lanka&
#any of them are members of the country,s Tamil minority& +n the final stages of the
country,s civil $ar% $hich ended five years ago% many Tamil civilians suffered at the
hands of both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Tamil rebel grou% the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil 8elam&
The Australians said only one of the forty*one eole on board the first boat $as found
to have a ossible case for asylum& 2aving been given the otion of being transferred
to Australia,s detention cams in 7auru or "aua 7e$ 9uinea for further rocessing%
the erson oted to be returned to Sri Lanka&
Activists say there is the risk that some of those handed over could face mistreatment&
The Australian government kno$s that torture% disaearances and rae revail in Sri
Lanka%( said Suren Surendiran% of the 9lobal Tamil :orum& '+nstead of being on the
side of the rest of the international community in fi;ing the root causes $hich drive
eole to take to unsafe boats in rough seas% Australia has chosen to breach its o$n
international obligations&(
.n #onday evening% it $as reorted that in the coming days% the !1 Sri Lankans $ere
to be brought before a court in 9alle and charged $ith leaving the country illegally&
'The sentence for those roved to have left illegally is t$o years of rigorous
imrisonment and a fine%( olice sokesman A0ith 5ohana told 5euters&
Last $eek% the <nited 7ations refugee agency% <72-5% issued a statement e;ressing
its 'rofound concern( that Australia $as rocessing asylum seekers at sea rather than
bringing them ashore to assess their claims&
<72-5 considers that individuals $ho seek asylum must be roerly and
individually screened for rotection needs%( it said& '+nternational la$ rescribes that
no individual can be returned involuntarily to a country in $hich he or she has a $ell*
founded fear of ersecution&'
+n a statement on #onday% 53 Australian legal scholars said Australia's olicy raised
the risk of forcing eole back to their lace of origin% $here many could face
ersecution& They said that $ould breach Australia,s obligations under international
refugee and human rights la$&