The Tamil Refugee Council released this statement on November 29.
The Australian government has almost certainly condemned another group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers to persecution, including torture, by returning them to their homeland, the Tamil Refugee Council said.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announced on November 29 that a boat containing 38 people from Sri Lanka had been intercepted by an Australian customs vessel near the Cocos Islands on November 15 and held at sea for 11 days.
Morrison did not say whether the asylum seekers were Tamil or Sinhalese.
After interviewing them on the boat about their claims for protection, all but one were handed back to the Sri Lankan Navy and returned to their country. One person was judged to be a candidate for protection and is in Australian custody.
Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson Trevor Grant said: “They have to do it in secret because they know that their tests wouldn’t stand public or legal scrutiny.
“Under this illegal screening system, these people get asked only a handful of questions, have no legal help and insufficient time to explain their circumstances. It is a system designed to ensure one outcome – that they are returned forthwith.
“Less than two years ago, the Australian government’s own statistics showed that about 90% of boat arrivals, including those from Sri Lanka, were judged to be in need of protection. Yet suddenly, under a secret process on a boat on the high seas, with no legal oversight, only one of 38 is judged to need protection.
“The idea that you can properly test a person’s claim for refugee status at sea has been condemned by well-respected legal and human rights groups many times, yet this government cares nothing for its legal, moral or ethical obligations.
“In July this year, a boat containing 41 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers was intercepted by Australian authorities and handed over to the Sri Lankan navy. Media reports later revealed some of the returnees were bashed and intimidated before facing court, and the prospect of two years “rigorous” imprisonment.
“This is a regime currently being investigated for war crimes by the UN for the slaughter of at least 70,000 innocent Tamil civilians, a regime condemned by the UN and other human rights groups for on-going persecution of the Tamil population.
“The Australian government knows what is happening there, yet it remain willfully blind to all these crimes.”