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Press briefing note on Australia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location:     Geneva
Date: 8 July 2014
Subject:       Australia
                       
We are deeply disturbed that Australian authorities on Sunday returned to Sri Lanka 41 people seeking asylum, apparently without adequate screening of their protection claims and needs. International law requires that each and every case be properly and individually examined on its own merits. This is not something that can or should be done hurriedly, remotely and on the high seas, without procedural safeguards and due process guarantees for those involved.

Any returns, even from the high seas or in the territorial seas of other states, must be carried out in accordance with international law, under which refoulement and collective expulsions are strictly prohibited.

It is unclear whether the Australian Government has been given any assurances that the returnees will not face ill-treatment upon their return to Sri Lanka, nor is it clear how the Australian Government plans to monitor their treatment.

We welcome the High Court of Australia’s issuance of an interim injunction against the return of 153 other Sri Lankan asylum seekers, reportedly including 37 children, intercepted by Australian authorities. We understand that since their interception more than a week ago, the individuals on this vessel have not been able to make contact with family members or refugee organisations.  

We hope the matter will be subject to a full judicial review in light of Australia’s obligations under international law, including the principle of non-refoulement under the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

ENDS
For more information or media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 /rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 93 10 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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