Gillard orders deportations to danger - says Govt. official

The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has breached international  refugee law by ordering asylum-seekers to be deported without proper investigation of their claims for asylum, an Australian TV report has revealed.

A former Immigration Department official  revealed on the ABC’s 7.30 report last night that Gillard had demanded that up to 400 asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka be deported a week.

Numbers rather than validity of claims was the priority, and this meant the use of an “enhanced screening” process that fails to meet Australia’s basic legal responsibilities under the UN  Refugee Convention.

'Inside' evidence

The official, Mr Greg Lake, said he understood that under this process legitimate refugees were likely to have been returned to danger  --  unprecedented “insider” evidence that the Immigration Department is returning people knowing there is a possibility they face persecution.

Mr Lake, a former Immigation Department operations manager at Nauru detention centre and a senior manager at Christmas Island and Shergar detention centres, said the department was in no doubt that pressure to send people back was coming from the Prime Minister’s office.

“The Prime Minister, as far as I was informed, had an expectation that at least 200 a week initially, and then there was an expectation of more like 400 a week would be returned from Christmas Island straight to Colombo in Sri Lanka,” Mr Lake told the 7.30 Report.

“That was made very clear, I think, to senior management at Immigration, the department, and they were then, not forced, but really they had no option but to come up with something as best as they could that would execute that expectation for the Prime Minister.”

Article 33 of the 1954 UN Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a signatory, states that asylum-seekers cannot be returned if their life or freedom may be threatened. It is also incumbent upon the Government to properly investigate their claims that they have fled from persecution.

However Lake says this wasn’t being done under the brief and incomplete “enhanced screening” process.

1,200 returned

Lake said he had quit his job because he was no longer comfortable having to execute this policy. “I was beginning to look back on some of the experiences I had had and wondering if I was part of the next horrific Australian story that we’ll reflect on in 20 0r 30 years time. We might have another prime ministerial apology on this kind of thing.”

More than 1200 Tamils have been returned to Sri Lanka from Australia since late last year. Refugee advocates have been saying for many months that many of these people have been returned to torture and intimidation.

The Tamil Refugee Council was recently contacted by a family of four, who had been returned to Sri Lanka from Christmas Island last month.

A spokesman for the TRC, Aran Mylvaganam, who was in touch with relatives of the family, said the children have been allowed to live with relatives but the parents were taken straight to jail and kept there. “They have been bashed with brooms and wooden sticks regularly during interrogation,” said Mylvaganam.

“It is always the same mode of operation. They are accused of having links with the Tamil Tigers and are bashed and tortured until they sign something and then pay a bribe to get out of jail.”

“Nathan”, another Tamil asylum-seeker who had passed the screening test, told the 7.30 Report that his brother, who failed it and was sent home, was now in Negombo jail, where he was being beaten, along with many other returned Tamils.

“At the moment 26 Tamil detainees are there, and some have been beaten and they are in different cells. My brother is afraid for his life. He has been beaten, he has been without food for many days,” he said.