On October 31, a Tamil asylum seeker, Anjan, came very close to being deported from Melbourne to Sri Lanka. Despite a picket of refugee supporters at the entrance of the Maribyrnong Detention Centre, Anjan had been taken from the detention centre and was left waiting anxiously at Melbourne airport.
At around 1.30pm, with the plane scheduled to leave at 3.00pm, the Federal Court finally issued an injunction preventing his removal from Australia.
Since August, when the government successfully removed Tamil asylum seeker Dayan Anthony to Colombo, last minute legal action has been able to stop the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker in September and now Anjan.
Many other asylum seekers, in particular Tamils and Hazaras, are considered to be “out of process” and are therefore available to the government for removal, once their existing bridging visas expire or they are brought in from community detention.
Legal efforts are underway to try and keep these asylum seekers “in process”. At the moment the legal efforts are focussed around the possibility of out-of-process asylum seekers applying for a visa on the basis of what is called complementary protection.
Before March 23 this year, protection claims were considered only on strict Refugee Convention grounds—“well founded fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
After complementary protection legislation was introduced, asylum applications after March 23 this year are also considered against wider grounds of whether there is a “real risk” of significant harm because of the death penalty, the threat of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The legal cases are to test whether previous boat arrivals can also now make new applications for complementary protection. The first test case is scheduled for January. But the government is taking a very hard line, forcing many asylum seekers to go to court to get injunctions rather than allow people to stay until the test case is heard.
It is obvious that asylum seekers being sent back to Sri Lanka or Afghanistan face a real risk of torture, cruel, inhuman treatment and worse.
In late October, for at least the third time this year, the British High Court issued last minute injunctions to prevent the removal of Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka because those being returned faced the risk of torture.
Anjan and others threatened with deportation by the Australian government face the same risk. But the government has ignored last minute pleas in order to be seen to be tough on asylum seekers.
In Anjan’s case, the court was finally willing to grant an injunction, but in August, Dayan Anthony was returned to danger. The simple message is that we can’t rely on the courts. If the court hadn’t intervened, the only thing between Anjan and removal would have been the protest at Maribyrnong detention centre.
Over the coming months, the refugee movement needs to build awareness of the deportation issue and support for the direct action at airline offices, detention centres and airports that will be needed to prevent asylum seekers being sent to danger.
Support from the unions will be crucial. Resolutions against deportations have been recently carried by the ACTU, the Victorian Trades Hall, the Victorian branches of the ASU (private sector), NTEU, AMWU and AEU, and the national conference of the MUA.
By Ian Rintoul
Visit Refugee Action Coalition’s website here for union motions to pass in your union