41 asylum seekers to Aussie produced before Galle Magistrate

Wednesday, 9 July 2014 00:56 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The saga of the 41 asylum seekers (37 Sinhalese and four Tamil Sri Lankan nationals), who were returned to Sri Lanka by the Australian Government, continued yesterday with five persons who undertook the voyage remanded while the rest were freed by the Galle Magistrate. Magistrate Shanaka Kalansuriya acquitted all the children on board, while the other passengers of the ill-fated voyage were granted bail. The five remanded were believed to have been the ring-leaders of the people smuggling operation. Speaking to reporters after they were granted bail, several asylum seekers said that they had been treated badly by the Australian Government authorities before they were handed over to the Sri Lanka Navy on Sunday. They complained of being given expired food and not having their medical needs met. Some passengers having their phones and camera equipment confiscated and never returned. The group said they had been at sea for eight days. Members of the group of 41 also claimed that there was no screening or processing of their asylum claims during the mid-sea interception. (DB)

 Australian PM says focused on stopping boats to prevent deaths at sea

CANBERRA: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday defended his Government’s decision to turn Sri Lankan asylum seekers back at mid sea without processing them on land. In a radio interview with Sunrise, Seven Network, the Prime Minister said he is focused on stopping the boats of illegal migrants coming to the country’s shores. “What I’m focused on is stopping the boats. That is what we are absolutely and constantly focused on because as long as the boats keep coming, we will keep having deaths at sea,” Abbott said when asked about the injunction by the court to halt the returns. He said the “most decent, humane and compassionate thing you can do is to stop the boats.” “I do want to assure everyone that what we do on the water is consistent with our legal obligations and consistent with safety at sea.” The Prime Minister criticised the Labour Party and its activists, the Greens and their activists, for trying to disrupt the Government’s policies. “We are stopping the boats. It’s important that we keep the boats stopped because as long as the boats keep coming, people will keep drowning and that’s the last thing anyone should want,” he said reiterating Australia’s policy. The Prime Minister declined to comment on the group of 153 asylum seekers, who got a reprieve from the court order. He said any commentary by government members about operational matters just gives aid and comfort to the people smugglers.

 Sri Lankan asylum seekers win “small victory” against Australian Govt.

REUTERS: Australia promised on Tuesday (8) to give three days’ notice before returning 153 asylum seekers, including children, a move being hailed by human rights lawyers as a minor victory against the country’s hard line immigration policy. The fate of a boatload of Tamil asylum seekers could be undecided for weeks as Australia’s High Court considers a legal challenge to Australia’s attempts to hand them over to Sri Lanka. “A group of vulnerable men, women and children will not be sent back to their persecutors,” said lawyer George Newhouse who brought the legal challenge. However, the longer-term implications of the case, which was adjourned until Friday (11) to give the Government time to comply with a subpoena from the court for documents, remain unclear. The High Court hearing, which could last up to three weeks, undercuts the government’s attempt to maintain secrecy over ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, a centrepiece of its election victory last year. The case, which follows the return on Sunday of 41 other Sri Lankan asylum seekers on a separate boat by Australia, has received international attention amid strong criticism by the United Nations and other human rights groups. Human rights lawyers will negotiate with the Government to speak directly with the asylum seekers, who are being held on the high seas on a naval vessel, saying they have so far spoken only with family members. Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Seven Network’s breakfast TV program on Tuesday that his policy is both legal and safe. “What we do on the water is consistent with our legal obligations and consistent with safety at sea,” he said. However, Labour Senator Penny Wong said it was not clear whether the action complies with Australia’s international commitments. “We have serious concerns as to whether Australia’s international obligations have been met,” she said. The 41 asylum seekers handed over on Sunday (6) appeared before a Magistrate’s Court in the port city of Galle on Tuesday. Sri Lankan Police had said they were to be charged with leaving the country illegally and any found guilty would face “rigorous imprisonment”, raising fears about rights abuses. A lawyer acting for Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, said the second group was intercepted 12 miles from Australia and outside the country’s migration zone. They were now on an Australian Navy vessel on the high seas, he said. Australia’s undertaking of three days’ notice applies only to the possible return of the asylum seekers to Sri Lanka. They could instead be held on the boat or transferred to offshore holding centres on Australia’s Christmas Island and the South Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

 Handover of Lankan asylum seekers a dangerous precedent: Amnesty International

The proposed handover of 153 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka’s Navy would put Australia in blatant breach of international law and set a dangerous precedent, Amnesty International said yesterday. A hearing at the High Court in Melbourne yesterday has put the transfer in doubt, after an application was brought on behalf of the asylum seekers that were recently intercepted by the Australian Navy on their way from India, the human rights watchdog said. The Amnesty International statement said that on Sunday, Australia returned 41 aslyum seekers that had tried to reach the country, to Sri Lanka’s Navy. “The decision that the whole High Court will hear the challenge reflects the gravity of the Australian Government’s deeply concerning proposal to return asylum seekers to a country where their lives may be at serious risk,” said Amnesty International Australia’s Refugee Spokesperson Graeme McGregor. “The Government’s temporary commitment they will not transfer the asylum seekers to Sri Lanka without giving 72 hours notice is a small step in the right direction, but the asylum seekers remain indefinitely held at sea, setting a dangerous precedent. “Throughout this process, the Government has continually failed to provide even basic answers to the questions about the asylum seekers’ whereabouts and their safety. “It’s taken a High Court challenge for the Government to even confirm the boat exists. “There still remain many unanswered questions about the missing asylum seekers’ whereabouts. “Amnesty International continues to have deep concerns about the shroud of secrecy imposed by the Government all under the guise of border security.” “Asking asylum seekers only four questions each before handing them back to Sri Lankan authorities runs an extremely high risk of returning genuine refugees to torture, persecution or death,” said McGregor. “If the Australian Government wants to address the loss of asylum seekers’ lives, it should not be returning them to a country where their lives may be in grave danger. “Australia stands alone in failing to recognise the ongoing human rights violations taking place in Sri Lanka,” Graeme McGregor added. All asylum seekers arriving by boat should be processed in Australia under a prompt, rigorous and fair Refugee Status Determination system. Amnesty International calls on the Government to immediately cease any policy to turn back asylum seeker boats.