Media Release: Refugee assessments of 157 Tamils must start – Morrison must retract ‘economic refugee’ claims

The Refugee Action Collective expresses concerns about the welfare of the Tamil asylum seekers now held in Curtin detention centre and the way in which their claims to protection will be processed.


‘It is disgraceful that 157 Tamil asylum seekers, including young children, were locked up for a month in windowless rooms on the high seas,’ said Vanessa Dodd for the Refugee Action Collective. ‘An expedited High Court hearing on the lawfulness of detaining people at sea forced Scott Morrison to backflip on his refusal to bring the asylum seekers to the mainland. Now the High Court must rule on the government’s actions and the asylum seekers’ claims that they were wrongfully imprisoned.’


Chris Breen also from the Refugee Action Collective said ‘Morrison outrageously pre-judged all people on the boat as “economic refugees” with no reasons to leave the “safety” of India. In doing so he revealed his ignorance of the 244 Indian nationals granted protection visas by his own department in the past twelve months. He also violated his department’s code of procedure for dealing fairly with visa applications by commenting on the asylum seekers’ protection claims before they had been assessed. However we welcome his defacto acknowledgement that Sri Lanka is not safe, when he said “….these people have come from the safe country of India. They haven’t come from Sri Lanka. They haven’t come from any of those other countries – Afghanistan or anything like that.” He should also acknowledge that over 200 asylum seekers his government has returned to Sri Lanka are now languishing in Negombo prison,’


Dodd continued ‘The 157 Tamils must not be subjected to “enhanced screening”, which has been used to return over 1300 Tamils to Sri Lanka. This can involve an interview as short as five minutes, with inadequate interpretation, and no review. Morrison’s prejudicial statements could influence this determination,’


‘Lawyers for the asylum seekers are reporting that they have had no access to their clients, and may not be able to advise them before they are interviewed by Indian officials. ‘Indian officials should not have a role in claims to protection made of Australia,’ said Dodd. ‘Unlike Australia, India has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention. Unlike Australia, India has no non-refoulement obligations to stop it returning asylum seekers to the persecution they fled.’


‘Tamil refugees are not safe in India. They live in camps without electricity and have no work rights. Tamil refugees need three security clearances before they can leave the camp and they face intimidation by security forces. Some have been in these camps for 25 years,’ said Dodd


‘Curtin Immigration Detention Centre is an inaccessible, inhospitable facility. According to the Immigration department’s website, updated in February, it houses only single adult males,’ said Dodd.  ‘Morrison has given no assurance that families, including sick children, can be appropriately accommodated there.’


‘The 157 Tamil asylum seekers should have been brought to the mainland a month ago,’ said Dodd. ‘They should have full access to legal advice and representation, and be able to enjoy the support of local communities who would be happy to welcome them to Australia after their prolonged ordeal at sea.’

For further comment call Vanessa Dodd 0404 698 657

or Chris Breen 0403 013 183