Written by Bella Dalima
05 Feb, 2015 | 7:03 pm
Issuing a statement, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees says that it has followed with deep concern Australia’s recent policies and practices of interception at sea, detention and removal of individuals who may be seeking Australia’s protection.
The statement comes in light of the recent ruling by a court in Australia that the detention of the 157 Tamil asylum seekers at sea for a month was lawful.
The group was detained on July 1, to July 27, 2014 after the vessel carrying the asylum seekers attempted to enter Australian waters.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, in its latest statement adds that while the majority of the high court found that Australia’s detention of the 157 asylum-seekers at sea was permitted under the maritime powers act, it did not find it necessary to decide on the scope of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations on the facts before it.
UNHCR urges renewed efforts towards the development of viable regional alternatives to potentially dangerous journeys by sea for asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons.
The statement adds that the UNHCR had made a submission as a friend of the court in the high court case focussing on the application of non-refoulement obligations – that is, Australia’s obligation not to return an individual to persecution or other serious harm when intercepting a vessel outside its territorial waters.
UNHCR says that it considers that there is only one superior court decision that is at variance with this understanding, and that decision, was based on interpretation of national rather than international law.
The UN refugee agency adds that if protection issues are raised, their cases should be properly determined through a substantive and fair refugee status determination procedure on the territory of the intercepting state to establish whether any one of them may be at risk of persecution or other serious human rights violations.
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