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Australian court blocks deportation of 153 Sri Lankans

Country's tough immigration policy deemed illegal

Australian court blocks deportation of 153 Sri Lankans

A Tamil woman in Udappuwa village in northwestern Sri Lanka, from which many asylum seekers have traveled illegally to Australia. (picture: AFP Photo/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi) reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

July 8, 2014

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The Australian High Court has ruled to block the forced return of 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers caught in Australian waters last week. This major ruling follows an international outcry over its deportation of 41 asylum seekers who were handed back to the Sri Lankan military on Monday.

The 153 refugees have been held on a customs boat since being intercepted by the Australian navy. Australia has come under pressure not to return them to Sri Lanka in the wake of Colombo’s warning that those who leave the country illegally face “rigorous imprisonment” of up to two years.

The UNHCR had criticized Australia and said it breached international commitments by attempting to deport the Sri Lankan nationals.

A court in Sri Lanka today granted bail to 27 of the 41 migrants deported by Australia.

“Many Tamils have fled the country after being subjected to torture, repeated threats, land grabbing, human rights violations and disappearances,” said Kanagalingam Shivajilingam, a Tamil northern provincial councilor.

“We continuously urge the international community not to send back refugees when the country is not safe,” he said.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, said current Australian policy is neither fair nor effective.

“Worse still, it also nurtures abuse and impunity, given the instances of torture in detention of returnees,” he said.

“The obsession with illegal immigration should not be allowed to blind the Australian government and society to its international commitments and to its commitment to justice and fair play.”

“Members of the international community of states have rights and responsibilities ... they cannot apply the conventions and agreements they sign up to selectively or ignore them completely,” Saravanamuttu said.

Lakshan Dias, a Sri Lankan human rights lawyer, said the Australian government has a responsibility not to facilitate the subjection of asylum seekers to torture and other cruel inhumane practices.

“Australia has stopped them in the middle of the seas close to Christmas Island and without conducting a proper evaluation of these refugees they were returned back,” said Dias, who has represented refugees in court.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state and has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country,” he said.

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