Lawyers given access to Tamil asylum seekers


Aus-imi-minis-brendan_cAustralian Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor has granted lawyers access to two Tamil asylum seekers who feared they would be sent back to Sri Lanka, the Sydney Morning Herald reported today.

One asylum seeker, who cannot be named, emailed refugee lawyer David Manne from Christmas Island on Wednesday seeking his help to apply for refugee protection.

The email came after 31 Tamil asylum seekers were flown from Christmas Island to Sri Lanka after they were found not to be genuine refugees. Daniel Webb, from the Human Rights Law Centre, said such people were typically interviewed without legal advice.

Lawyers applied to the Federal Circuit Court for access to the two people and 12 others who, they believed, also wanted legal assistance. After negotiating with Mr O’Connor’s lawyers , they agreed on Thursday that the manager of Christmas Island’s detention centre would ”make available facilities at certain times and circumstances” for the two asylum seekers. They also agreed to provide two business days’ notice before removing them from Australia.

Talks are continuing about the other 12 asylum seekers.

”It’s been necessary to go to court … so that they know where they stand and are able to make any claims for protection as refugees in Australia without being expelled to Sri Lanka,” Mr Manne said.

But there were still concerns for others in detention without access to legal representation.

”If people don’t know their rights and aren’t able to present their claims and there’s a miscarriage of justice … we could be sending people back to the real risk of torture or death.”

By law, the government must give people in immigration detention ”all reasonable facilities … for obtaining legal advice or taking legal proceedings in relation to his or her immigration detention” at their request.

The Immigration Minister’s spokesman, Nick Wood, said the government was required to organise free legal assistance for asylum seekers only when they asked a Commonwealth official.

Justice Grant Riethmuller questioned whether asylum seekers would understand that legal assistance would be free. The case was adjourned until 3 June.