The Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations released this statement on December 5.

The Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations (AFTA), the umbrella body of the peak Tamil associations in Australia and New Zealand, welcomes the news that the deportation of 56 Tamil refugees was halted after a dramatic hearing at the High Court in Sydney late on Monday.

However AFTA is disappointed by the department spokesman’s comment to the The Age that it was “not uncommon’’ for the department to face legal challenges of this kind, but no other deportations would be affected by the hearing and the department “will continue to remove unlawful non-citizens where it is in accordance with the Migration Act”.

AFTA knows very well that Australia as a signatory to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) [UNCRSR 1951] cannot commit “refoulment” by sending back any refugee claiming protection in Australia, to a country from where he or she fled from claiming that he or she has been persecuted and will be persecuted if sent back.

While AFTA is happy that these 56 Tamil men will not be deported to Sri Lanka until the High Court in Sydney makes a ruling in their case, AFTA is concerned that the 50 Sri Lankan men who were sent from Darwin to Colombo on Friday were not lucky enough. AFTA reliably learned from a source who contacted the relatives of one of these deported men that these men were driven in a bus direct from the airport to a Magistrate’s house and later to Negambo prison.

AFTA is perturbed at the comment made proudly by Australia’s Immigration Minister Chris Bowen after the Friday’s deportation that nearly 600 asylum seekers have now been returned to Sri Lanka against their will. Minister Bowen has been quoted in the media as having said: “The Sri Lankans were advised of their status and that they were subject to removal from Australia. They raised no issues that engaged Australia’s international obligations”.

Does the Minister expect these people who arrive by boats to have a thorough knowledge of Australia’s international obligations under the UNCRSR 1951 to raise issues about the way they are treated?

AFTA has no issues with the comments made by the department spokesman to The Age that it “will continue to remove unlawful non-citizens where it is in accordance with the Migration Act”, if that removal is carried out after reviewing thoroughly every claims to declare one as an unlawful non-citizen.

AFTA reliably learns that in the already deported cases decisions were made after asking specific questions spending less than 30 minutes. This is a very unsatisfactory process that is described by the Refugee Action Coalition as “screening out”, alleged to be designed not to assess the asylum seekers as genuine refugees and is now challenged in the High Court.

While AFTA agrees that everyone coming by boat to Australia may not be genuine refugees, that notion should not be allowed to deny the opportunity of a genuine refugee’s claim to be dumped en-mass (to deter the people smugglers) with the non-refugees and expose that person who has already suffered in the hands of the brutal Sri Lankan regime, to be added to the list of disappeared people in Sri Lanka forever.

The whole Tamil community in Australia is highly disturbed by this matter and therefore AFTA appeals to the Minster to give each and every illegally arriving Tamils a proper opportunity to present his or her protection claim and that also in the presence of preferably a lawyer or at least a witness to be more transparent.

AFTA would like to appeal to the public to let AFTA knows of any one in the detention centres who are being denied an opportunity to make their protection claim properly, by calling on 0402 484 209 or contact by email to enable AFTA to take further action.

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