In early September, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen condemned the Opposition’s demands for asylum boat arrivals from Sri Lanka to be sent back. But two months later, that is exactly what Chris Bowen has been doing.
Bowen said that sending all boat arrivals automatically back to Sri Lanka would put Australia in breach of its international obligations over refugees. Chris Bowen has also strongly criticised Tony Abbott’s calls to “turn back the boats”.
In three days in early November 93 Sri Lankans from a number of different boats were denied entry to Australia and sent back without any asylum claims being considered. This came after 26 others were sent back the week before, along with 15 returned to face charges over allegedly hijacking a boat to get to Australia.
Chris Bowen says that people are being removed because they did not raise any “claims which meant Australia had any international obligation to them” or that their claims for asylum were “not credible.” But it is Bowen’s claim that is not credible.
Is it really likely that the Sri Lankans had taken such a difficult journey and not raised protection issues when they got here?
Like the so-called voluntary returns of Sri Lankans from Nauru, people are being returned without having access to either advocates or independent legal advice. They are entirely vulnerable to whatever information the government gives them or whatever threats the government makes. With turn-arounds, coerced voluntary returns and forced deportations the government is riding rough-shod over the rights of asylum seekers.
By Ian Rintoul