Challenging Labor’s plans for forced deporations of refugees

On February 8-9, an important case went before the High Court. The outcome—which won’t be known until at least March—will determine whether the Federal government can push ahead with plans to forcibly deport scores of so-called “failed” Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers, and others considered by the government to be “out of process”.
This High Court case could have as significant an impact as the M61 case in November 2010, which resulted in offshore applicants having the same right as onshore asylum seekers to seek judicial review of their refugee assessments. Success this time would allow asylum seekers to seek judicial review of advice given to the Minister when making final decisions regarding appeals to remain in Australia.
Late last year, the attempt to remove Ismail Mirza Jan, the first Afghan asylum seeker under Australia’s widely condemned Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Afghan government, was stopped by a High Court injunction. Two Tamil men Emil and Vithuran, who also faced deported last December, are also among the claimants.
It is unthinkable that the government would consider sending asylum seekers to either Afghanistan or Sri Lanka. Describing Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said that 2011 was, “the most violent year ever and the worst year for civilian casualties”. The US State Department admits “no part of Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence”.
As minority Shiite Muslims, Hazaras face systematic religious persecution. In early December 2011, at least 58 Shiites were killed in a bomb attack on a Kabul mosque.
In Sri Lanka, Tamils remain subject to military harassment almost three years after the end of the civil war. A fact finding mission by Tamil MP M.A. Sumanthiran recently documented, “state brutality including sexual assault, land grabs and occupation”.
Raising the issue of deportation will be an important aspect of the refugee campaign in the period ahead. RAC groups held rallies in both Sydney and Melbourne to coincide with the start of the hearing. The movement has been circulating two petitions—one to the Australian government, the other to the Afghan ambassador—as part of striving to prevent any asylum seeker being deported to danger—as happened all too often during the Howard years.
Mark Goudkamp

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