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Crikey Says

Jul 7, 2014

Crikey says: welcome to the new normal in border protection

Who reads pollies’ hagiographies? We crunch the numbers. Why you shouldn’t trust the Coalition on national security. Sunday Night’s bizarre Pistorious re-enactment. Asylum seeker “disappearing” not without precedent. Another AEC missing ballots fiasco? What Brandis got wrong in his meeting with imams. Hunt’s doorstop Dixers. Chris Mitchell’s true life calling. And is the World Cup keeping you up? You’re not alone.

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“The 41 Sri Lankan nationals were transferred at sea, in mild sea conditions from a vessel assigned to Border Protection Command to Sri Lankan authorities, just outside the Port of Batticaloa.”

This is how Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed speculation that a boatload of Sri Lankan asylum seekers had indeed been handed by Australian border officials to the Sri Lankan authorities.

Mild sea conditions. Nothing to see here.

The group was subject to the controversial “enhanced screening” process whereby asylum seekers are assessed quickly and without any legal representation, without setting foot on Australian soil.

In other words: we did not assess their claims for asylum in any meaningful sense before handing them back to the very people from whom they were fleeing.

This terrifying course of action is not without precedent — in a less high-profile case last year, seven West Papuan asylum seekers who sought asylum in the Torres Strait were dumped by Australian officials in Port Moresby, before being transferred to a refugee camp on PNG’s porous border with Indonesia.

The group told Australian border officials that they’d received threatening visits from Indonesian security personnel after taking part in a protest — but their claims for asylum were never heard. Instead they were dumped in a camp just kilometres from the patrolling Indonesian military, with no protection and no avenue for appeal.

This is the new normal in Australian “border protection”.

It may be the case that the Sri Lankans handed over to the Sri Lankan government had no legitimate claim to asylum — large numbers of Sri Lankans were returned to that country under the previous government as well. But the chances of a legitimate claim being successfully made in the rapid-fire assessment process to which these people have been subject are — intentionally — far lower than in a normal process conducted under Australian law.

That’s the key issue here: either we have the rule of law, in which governments act in accordance with due process even when inconvenient, or we have political law, in which governments act with no restraint other than what they think they can get away with.

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