Written by News 1st
08 Jul, 2014 | 12:21 pm
Sri Lankan naval vessel the Samudra (L) is anchored after transferring 41 would-be asylum seekers whose boat was turned away by Australia at the southern port of Galle on July 7, 2014. PHOTO / AFP
Australian government lawyers have told an Australian High Court hearing 72 hours’ notice will be given before 153 asylum seekers being held on a Customs ship are handed back to Sri Lankan authorities.
Lawyers acting for about one third of the asylum seekers, whose whereabouts the Government refuses to disclose, are seeking to challenge the legality of the Commonwealth’s actions.
Tuesday’s hearing in Melbourne was given the first official confirmation that the asylum seekers – including children as young as 2 – have been intercepted and are being held on a Customs vessel.
Twenty-one of the asylum seekers are minors, aged between 2 and 16 years of age. The majority of the group as a whole are males.
Ron Merkel QC, who is acting for the asylum seekers, told the court the boat was intercepted in Australian waters and that there was evidence it was in “trouble” at the time.
However Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson said the boat was found in Australia’s contiguous zone – not the migration zone – and argued that the passengers had no right to claim asylum in Australia.
Mr Merkel said the issue was not whether the government had power to take the 153 people on board an Australian vessel, but whether they could be forcibly returned to Sri Lanka.
The court has yet to decide if the lawyers have a case to be heard, but if the application is accepted it could prevent the asylum seekers being handed over to Sri Lankan authorities.
However, Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, says Sri Lanka has no plans to accept the group, who are believed to have set sail from a port in India.
“I can categorically deny and reject any plans of Sri Lanka to take over the suspected, speculated, presumed asylum seekers coming from India,” he told ABC News 24.
The hearing has now been adjourned until Friday.
The Australian Government says processing can include on-water teleconferencing
In Canberra, the Government has confirmed that teleconferencing of asylum seekers at sea “may” be used in what it is calling the “enhanced screening” of asylum claims.
There have been reports that Australian authorities have conducted basic interviews with the asylum seekers via video link – a method that has been criticised by refugee advocates.
Forty-one asylum seekers were transferred to the Sri Lankan Navy earlier this week, after being assessed at sea through the “enhanced screening” process.
Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
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