Mon, Jul 09, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Australia condemned for detaining asylum seekers

The Guardian

A key UN body has condemned as arbitrary and illegal Australia’s indefinite incarceration of refugees and asylum seekers, issuing critical statements on five separate cases in a year.

However, those unlawfully held remain in indefinite detention, where they have been held for up to nine years without charge.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is a key part of the UN’s Human Rights Council, on which Australia sits after a years-long public and diplomatic campaign for the position. The group is an independent body of human rights experts that assesses cases of alleged arbitrary detention and reports to the council.

Since June last year, the group has published five opinions critical of Australia’s open-ended detention of asylum seekers and refugees.

It has consistently argued that Australia’s indefinite detention of some refugees and asylum seekers is unlawful.

In each of the five published opinions, the group has recommended that Australia immediately release the men held and pay them “compensation and other reparations” for their unlawful detention.

None of the men have been released. The youngest is 29 years old, the oldest 45. They each face detention without charge — in theory, potentially until the end of their lives.

The longest in detention is an Afghan asylum seeker, who has been held in Australian detention centers continuously since 2009.

His claim for protection has been rejected, but he still has appeals before the courts, and his case has been complicated by the Australian government leaking his personal details online, potentially compromising his safety in his home country.

Stateless Western Sahara man Said Imasi has been held without allegation, charge, or trial for more than eight years since he arrived in Australia by airplane as a teenager in 2010.

His case is set to go before the High Court of Australia this year, brought by Human Rights For All.

Others represent complex cases, where Australia’s obligation under international law to offer protection refugees is in conflict with adverse “character assessments,” mental health issues and domestic legal requirements to cancel visas.

In one case, a former child soldier from Sudan’s civil war brought to Australia as a teenage refugee 15 years ago, and who has ongoing and acute mental health issues, has been convicted of 40 criminal offenses and had his visa canceled after two warnings.

The Australian government has canceled his visa on character grounds, but cannot send him to any other country. He faces a potentially indefinite detention.

Also being assessed by the group is the case of a stateless child refugee, revealed by the Guardian Australia last week, who was brought to Australia by boat as a 16-year-old, and who remains in immigration detention after five years and facing a potentially limitless incarceration.

The group has consistently condemned Australia’s reliance on indefinite detention.

In several cases, the open-ended detention has also been criticized by Australia’s own commonwealth ombudsman. In the case of Imasi, the ombudsman has said it has been recommending for six years he be released into the Australian community, but “there appears to be no clear resolution in sight.”

The Australian government has defended its policies, arguing before the UN working group that its detention regime “is administrative in nature and not for punitive purposes,” and had succeeded in stopping the flow of asylum seeker boats to Australia.

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