Lawyers assisting 157 asylum seekers secretly sent overnight to Nauru today condemned the Government’s actions.
“The secret overnight transfer is a deliberate move to prevent legal scrutiny. It highlights the Government’s deception, secrecy and willingness to undermine the rule of law in Australia,” said the Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser.
“This isn’t about politics or refugee policy. It’s about basic decency and respect for the law in Australia.
“Since last Sunday, we have been urgently seeking to speak to all 157 people to give them advice about the proposed visit by Indian officials and the Australian Government’s plans for them. We also asked to meet in person with our clients on Monday next week at the Curtin Detention Centre.
“In response, we were allowed to speak to only 4 of the 157 clients this week in telephone interviews of 1 hour or less.
"At around 4.30pm yesterday, the two clients we were able to speak to, asked us to examine legal options to prevent a possible transfer to Nauru or Manus Island. A few hours later, all 157 were secretly sent away.
“This move will compound the trauma experienced by our clients. They have just spent a month in detention on the high seas locked in windowless rooms for at least 21 hours a day, not knowing where they were and living in constant fear. Now they have been secretly sent overnight to Nauru. I spoke to two of our clients over the phone yesterday afternoon and they had not been given any indication that they were going anywhere. We hold grave concerns for their mental health.
“There were 50 children in the group including some as young a one year old. Contrary to Mr Morrison’s claim that there are no unaccompanied minors, there is one boy who just turned 17 who isn’t accompanied by any parents or guardians," said Mr de Kretser
George Newhouse of Shine Lawyers rejected Minister Morrison’s claims that lawyers advised the clients not to speak to Indian officials.
“Scott Morrison’s statements are deliberately misleading. We never advised our clients not to speak to Indian Government officials.
“On the contrary, last Sunday we urgently wrote to the Australian Government and the Indian High Commission to understand the basis for the interviews and to request that they don’t proceed before we were able to advise all our clients on what was proposed. We expressly sought a cooperative approach about what was proposed.
“The Australian Government never answered the simple questions outlined in our letter about the basis for those Indian Government interviews.
“The Minister is also being misleading when he suggests these people had well established lives in India. They were fleeing their homeland of Sri Lanka and some had been in India for only a few months,” said Mr Newhouse.
Extracts from the letter to the Australian Government is below.
Mr Newhouse will be holding a doorstop press conference in Sydney at 2pm in the park on the corner of Rush Street and Halls Lane Woollahra.
Further comment and interview
George Newhouse 0422 255 109
Hugh de Kretser 0403 965 340 is also available for phone interviews.
Extracts from letter sent on Sunday 28 July 2014 by Shine Lawyers to lawyers for the Australian Government:
“It follows from the above that we request access as a matter of urgency to all of the 157 persons on the Australian vessel who are being brought to Australia so that they can be properly advised in relation to the current High Court proceedings, the effect on their legal rights of being brought to Australia and any other matters relevant to any visit or interviews by Indian High Commission officials. After our clients have received that advice we would hope to be able to engage in a cooperative approach concerning any interviews. It is of course imperative that agreement on these matters be reached prior to any interview process by Australian or Indian Government officials commencing.”
“As is apparent from the above, we do not foreclose the possibility that some of the persons on the Australian vessel may satisfy any criteria the High Commissioner of India wishes to put forward and, if so, might be prepared to consider a return to India. However, the process must be one which is in accordance with law and does not deprive the persons concerned of their legal rights so as to be in a position to give informed consent to any matters that may arise.”