SYDNEY: Australia’s government promised not to hand over a group of asylum seekers to the Sri Lankan government without three days’ notice amid a court challenge and uproar from human rights groups.
The government’s pledge came during a High Court hearing held one day after Australia’s immigration minister confirmed that another boatload of asylum seekers had been intercepted by Australian border patrol and handed to Sri Lankan authorities in a transfer at sea last month.
Refugee advocates and human rights agencies argued that the asylum seekers could face persecution in their home country.
Lawyers representing some of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers on the latest intercepted boat went to the High Court to stop the 153 people on board from also being returned to their home country. They are currently being held on an Australian customs vessel.
High Court Justice Susan Crennan, who issued a temporary injunction late Monday night halting any further transfers, adjourned the matter until a later date following yesterday’s hearing.
In the meantime, the government’s lawyer, Justin Gleeson, said no asylum seekers would be transferred without 72 hours’ written notice.
The issue erupted Monday after Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that Australian border patrol had intercepted a boat carrying 41 Sri Lankans off the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean in late June and handed them over to the Sri Lankan government on Sunday.
Yesterday’s court hearing marked the first time the government acknowledged the second boat’s existence, and Morrison still has yet to comment on where or when that boat was intercepted.
The hearing has no impact on the 41 Sri Lankans who have already been returned to Sri Lanka.
A Sri Lankan court yesterday detained five alleged people smugglers who were among the 41 aboard the boat.
Twenty-seven other adults were accused of illegally leaving the country and were released on bail, while nine children who were aboard the boat were discharged. — AP