October 17, 2012
The ABC has learned the Immigration Department has begun rejecting some asylum seekers who arrive by boat without hearing their case or allowing them to see a lawyer to discover their rights.
The right to seek asylum is an internationally accepted legal principle and it has long been a cornerstone assumption that asylum seekers are told their rights when they arrive in Australia.
But one of Australia’s most experienced immigration lawyers, Michaela Byers, has told PM that is no longer the case.
Ms Byers is a law specialist at the University of Western Sydney and has been representing refugees for 20 years.
“Since July this year I have started to come across people, they’ve had an informal verbal interview in which the department has determined that Australia doesn’t owe protection to them and won’t allow them to do a refugee application,” she told PM.
Ms Byers says she has 16 cases of people she claims were not told any of their rights.
They include a family with six children, ranging from one to 17 years of age.
Immigration officials call it “screening out”, but to Ms Byers it has all the hallmarks of star chamber justice.
“Part of the screening out process is that the people are not read their rights so nothing is being processed on their behalf and they’re just detained in a hopeless limbo in detention without any due process,” she said.
Ms Byers concedes the right to not tell someone their rights is legal and is an administrative power held by immigration officials.
She believes the power was originally used to deal with people who arrived by plane but it is now being applied to boat arrivals.
She says these people are being held in detention centres indefinitely because they cannot be put back on boats.
“They’re just sitting there thinking about it, going crazy, basically,” she said.
Ms Byers says the situation is only getting worse.
“I’m really disturbed that there’s more families and children, if they are held in lower security it’s still detention, and the children don’t understand what they’ve done wrong and why they’re being held in a prison-like environment,” she said.