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Australia deportations challenged

04 December 2012, 14:12

Sydney - A group of 56 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers have challenged their deportation from Australia, claiming the government ignored pleas that they risked persecution back home, refugee advocates said on Tuesday.

Australia has sent more than 500 Sri Lankan men back to Colombo involuntarily since August, deeming them economic migrants.

But a group of 56 who had been scheduled for deportation applied for an injunction against their removal in the High Court late on Monday, said Ian Rintoul, a campaigner with the Refugee Action Coalition.

No injunction was granted but the asylum-seekers won an undertaking from the government that they will not be removed before their case returns to court on Thursday, he said.

Rintoul said the screening process the men had been subjected to was "entirely unaccountable, non-transparent, non reviewable".

"We don't know the criteria on which these decisions are made; but they are clearly life and death decisions," he said.

Deportations to continue

He said it appeared that anyone whose claim of persecution predated the April 2009 end of the civil war in Sri Lanka was sent back, while others were cut off as they answered questions during their interviews.

"We are quite sure that people have what in other circumstances would be a request, and an explicit request, for protection from Australia on the basis of risk of persecution, but they are being ignored," Rintoul said.

Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, told state broadcaster ABC that many of the men being returned to Sri Lanka were being "screened out and deported".

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen - who has overseen a policy on boatpeople which has seen hundreds of asylum-seekers sent to the Pacific islands for their claims to be processed offshore - said through a spokesperson that it would be inappropriate to comment given the court proceedings.

But he said last week: "The government will continue to return people where they do not engage Australia's international obligations."

Australia is struggling to deal with a record number of asylum-seekers, many from Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq who are paying people-smugglers to make the dangerous journey, often on unsafe, wooden fishing vessels.



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