THE Australian Human Rights Commission has alleged the immigration authorities Down Under had denied 38 failed Sri Lankan asylum seekers access to legal advice before sending them back to Sri Lanka.
The failed asylum seekers were flown back involuntarily to Colombo on Thursday after the Australian immigration department deemed they were not genuine refugees.
Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs said she was profoundly concerned Australia had employed an ‘enhanced screening process’ in recent months for Sri Lankan boat arrivals.
The latest group of returnees included 38 men, women and children who arrived last week on a boat that reached Geraldton in Western Australia.
Prof Triggs said Australia risked breaching its non-refoulement obligations, which forbid asylum seekers from being returned to countries where they may be persecuted.
“Asylum seekers may be ‘screened out’ without being provided with access to legal advice or independent review,” she said in a statement on Friday.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor denied Australia was acting in an ‘injudicious manner’.
He said the asylum seekers who were returned did not request legal advice.
“We are ensuring our obligations in accordance with the (United Nations) Refugee Convention are fulfilled,” he told reporters in Adelaide.
O’Connor says 28 other people who arrived on the same boat last week will have their refugee claims assessed.
Sending the boat’s passengers back to their homeland would send a very powerful message to other people considering the dangerous boat journey to Australia that there would be no guarantees of settlement.
Meanwhile, an asylum-seeker boat with 153 people on board was intercepted on Wednesday near Christmas Island.
The boat, carrying the largest number of passengers of any arrival since October 2012, was assisted by an Australian navy vessel after a request for help.
Its 150 passengers and three crew were transferred to Christmas Island for security and health checks.
They will probably be sent to Australia’s offshore processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.