Sidestepping due process: more Sri Lankans returned after being ‘screened out’

Australia’s decision to forcibly return 31 Sri Lankan nationals to Colombo last night was based on a flawed process that fails to ensure Australia is not breaching its international human rights obligations by returning genuine refugees.

The group were deported without any proper assessment of their need for protection, a procedure the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has described as ‘enhanced screening’.

Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, Daniel Webb, said that the Department’s increasing reliance on ‘enhanced screening’ is a shortcut designed to deliberately sidestep processes under Australian law that safeguard against returning genuine refugees.

“There is nothing ‘enhanced’ about the practice of screening out. It’s an informal and secretive process that deliberately circumvents existing processes and safeguards under the Migration Act,” said Mr Webb.

People who are screened out are deported at short notice after being interviewed without legal advice. The determination that they aren’t entitled to Australia’s protection is not subject to independent review.

Adding to these concerns are recent statistics revealing that when the Department determines a maritime arrival is not a refugee, appeals against those decisions are successful about 75 percent of the time.

“The Department often gets it wrong when they follow a far more rigorous and thorough assessment process. Shortcuts like ‘screening out’ are bound to increase the risk of error,” Mr Webb said.

Australia has clear international obligations under the Convention Against Torture, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Refugee Convention not to return people in our custody to a place where they are at risk of persecution, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

“International law prohibits Australia from sending people to places where they are at risk of human rights violations. A fair assessment process is a reasonable and necessary safeguard to ensure these international law obligations are met,” Mr Webb said.

Recent reports by Human Rights Watch, the International Bar Association and Amnesty International have documented the many serious and ongoing human rights problems in Sri Lanka, reinforcing the need to ensure due process is afforded to all Sri Lankan arrivals.

There have been 966 involuntary returns to Sri Lanka since last August.

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Daniel Webb on