Calls to set law for asylum seeker interview process

Asylum Seekers

The Greens are demanding the Federal Government set clear legal requirements for the interview process undertaken to determine whether an asylum seeker has a legitimate refugee claim.

On Tuesday, 56 asylum seekers avoided being sent back to Sri Lanka after a Government backdown.

The group had mounted a last-minute High Court challenge, arguing they should stay because they made valid claims for asylum and some were not aware what officials were interviewing them about.

The Government has now agreed to let them stay and have their claims processed either in Australia or offshore.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the interview process must be set out in law.

“I’ve been very concerned that this process is so informal, that there’s no proper legal representation in these interviews,” she said.

“Rather than assessing the claims of these people and working out whether indeed they are entitled to protection, the Government’s been more concerned with the grubby, dirty politics in a competition with Tony Abbott.”

Hundreds of Sri Lankans have been involuntarily sent back to their home country since August, but this is the first time the practice has been legally challenged.

Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul, who coordinated the case, says the “screening out” interview process is often very short and asylum seekers are not given a proper opportunity to fully explain their circumstances.

He is vowing to continue to fight the process through the courts.

“We will… continue to do whatever we can to prevent the Government from mistreating and violating the human rights of asylum seekers in Australia,” he told AM.

“If that means taking, you know, five people to court, seven people to court, 57 people to court then we will continue to do that to the best of our ability.”

But Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has defended the way his department has handled the situation, saying that while it is controversial to send some people back to Sri Lanka, it is entirely appropriate.

“We do consider what people tell us,” Mr Bowen told AM.

“We often have people saying to us that they are here for purposes other than claiming asylum; they are swiftly returned.

“I do think obviously where people are being sold the product of economic migration to Australia, this is a very powerful message to them that that is not a product that is available to them.”

Mr Bowen says the Government will continue to return people to Sri Lanka if they do not make claims that invoke Australia’s international obligations.

The Opposition says it supports the policy of sending those people back, but has criticised the Government’s handing of its border protection policy.

“Once again, lawyers are running the Government’s policy not the Government when it comes to asylum seekers,” the Opposition’s immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said.

“This policy was always an injunction waiting to happen.”

He says Australia needs to work closer with the Sri Lankan government to help intercept boats at their source.

The Opposition’s border protection spokesman Michael Keenan says the Coalition supports a robust framework to determine if people are making genuine claims.

“But it’s really up to the Government to get that framework right,” he said.