Amnesty International Slams Australia for Breaching Refugee Convention

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Sri Lankan asylum seekers who were sent back by Australia wait to enter a magistrate's court in Galle
Sri Lankan asylum seekers who were sent back by Australia cover their faces as they wait to enter a magistrate's court in the southern port district of Galle July 8, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Australia is under fire for returning a boat filled with asylum seekers to Sri Lanka with Amnesty International calling it an "act of refoulement." The government is facing international scrutiny over the country's treatment of asylum seekers.

A second boat carrying 153 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka continues to remain in limbo while waiting for the Australian High Court to decide if intercepting the boat was legal.

Refugee campaign coordinator for Amnesty International Australia Graeme McGregor explained in a report by DW how Australia has violated international law for risking the lives of people due to its screening process at sea.

McGregor said Australia breached the Refugee Convention since international law states that a government is not allowed to return people to their country of origin due to serious risk of persecution including murder and torture.

Amnesty International and other international watchdogs have followed the human rights abuses committed by Sri Lankan officials against the Tamils including those who oppose the government. McGregor said returning asylum seekers from Sri Lanka without evaluating their claims for refugee status were "inexcusable."

He said Amnesty International was aware of Australia's "enhanced screening" process and called it "discriminatory and unfair." Asylum seekers who spoke to the organisation said they were only allowed to answer the screening questions in one sentence.

A spokesman for the Sri Lankan police, Ajith Rohana, said asylum seekers who were handed back to the Sri Lankan navy could face consequences. He said they will be sentenced to two years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine if they are found to have left the country illegally.

Legal experts said the Abbott government's attempt to quickly screen the 41 asylum seekers protection claims via teleconference while out at sea were against the "minimum standards" regarding the determination of refugee status under international law.

Reports said over 1,000 Sri Lankan asylum seekers were deported by Australia to Sri Lanka in recent years. Australia's immigration minister Scott Morrison had previously warned Sri Lankan asylum seekers that those who planned to enter the country by boat will be sent back.

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