July 07, 2014
THE High Court has granted an interim injunction to prevent 153 asylum-seekers being returned to the Sri Lankan military by the Australian Navy.
In an urgent hearing in Sydney this evening after an application by refugee advocates, Justice Susan Crennan granted an interim injunction that would stop the Australian Navy returning the Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, who have claimed to be minority Tamils, being handed over to the “Sri Lankan government, its military or its agents.”
Acting on behalf of refugee advocates and the Tamil association, solicitor George Newhouse has sought to protect a boat of 153 people claiming to be Tamil refugees who made contact with Australian authorities after leaving Pondicherry in southern India late last month.
The order sought to protect 48 people who are named as Tamils, while it seeks to protect a further 105 unnamed asylum-seekers who are also claiming to be Tamil refugees.
Justice Crennan’s interim injunction protecting the removal of the asylum-seekers believed to be on the Australian Navy vessel will stay in place until 4pm tomorrow. The matter is set to be heard in the High Court tomorrow afternoon.
Justice Crennan noted that “the position of Tamil minority appears problematic” and that the applicants had “made out a prima facie case for urgent relief”.
However she also noted that “it was not entirely clear what the next step for the plaintiffs” was and the application “appears somewhat speculative”.
The court heard evidence from affidavits field by human rights groups, as well lawyers handing up the Australian department of foreign affairs own travel warnings on what they describe as a still unstable and potentially dangerous situation in Sri Lanka.
Acting on behalf of the asylum-seekers, barrister Ron Merkel compared the case to the Tampa boat crisis, saying: “the Tampa case raised a slightly similar” although slightly “different question” about the constitutionality of parts of the migration act that could allow returns of asylum-seekers.
“This is a clear case where the commonwealth should not be able to risk the lives of those on the boat … simply because they were unable to make a claim,” Mr Merkel said.
Acting on behalf of the commonwealth, Andras Markus said claims that the asylum-seekers would be handed over to Sri Lanka were “entirely speculative” and relied merely on media reports.
“The factual assumptions made are simply not sufficient to justify the sort of judicial power that is being sought,” he said.
“The reference to press reports do not provide a sufficient factual basis for the making of the orders being sought.”