The Human Rights Law Centre has submitted an appeal for urgent action to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in relation to the situation of a group of eight Tamil asylum seekers who have travelled to Australia from Sri Lanka by boat. The men are currently held at Wickham Point Immigration Detention Centre in Australia.
The HRLC is instructed that the men are in need of protection but have been or may be ‘screened out’ of refugee status assessments procedures and denied the opportunity to make a protection claim under the Refugee Convention as incorporated into Australian law.
The HRLC considers that, in the circumstances, the men's deportation to Sri Lanka would contravene the Refugee Convention and Australia’s non-refoulement obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. While the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has improved since the end of the civil war in 2009, it is well documented and accepted that serious human rights violations – including arbitrary arrest, detention, systemic discrimination and even torture – remain widespread in the country, particularly against the Tamil minority.
In previous documented cases, ‘screened out’ asylum seekers have been given just 24 hours notice prior to involuntary return to Sri Lanka. The appeal for urgent action therefore requests that the Special Rapporteur urgently investigate and respond to the situation, with a view to ensuring that:
- Australia desist from involuntarily returning the men to Sri Lanka in potential violation of the non-refoulement provisions of the Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and
- the Complainants be permitted and facilitated to make a protection visa application in accordance with the Migration Act 1958, including by ensuring that the men have access to adequate legal advice and translation and interpretative services.