Human Rights

Abott to send thousands back to torture and rape

An Abbott Government would condemn thousands of people to torture, rape, jailings and beatings if it goes ahead with a plan to fast-track more than 30,000 community-based asylum-seekers back to their homelands.

The policy, announced today, also includes the re-introduction of temporary protection visas that deny certainty to people whom the government has declared to be genuine refugees.

Legal experts have signalled the policy faces major legal hurdles as it appears to be in breach of the Australian constitution as well as the basic tenet of the Refugee Convention – not to return people to the place from which they have fled a fear of persecution.

'No humanitarian concerns'

The Coalition says it plans to abolish the Refugee Review Tribunal, taking away any avenue of appeal to asylum seekers who are deemed not to be refugees. It means that thousands of asylum seekers, including Tamils, now living in the community on bridging visas while awaiting processing of their claims, face deportation to danger.

“The Coalition’s aim is get as many asylum seekers off the books and back home as soon as possible, no matter what the humanitarian consequences,” said Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson, Trevor Grant.

“It means that thousands of people, many of whom are Tamils, will be denied natural justice and deported to danger. As a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Australia is legally obligated to ensure that asylum seekers are not returned to persecution.

“As Professor Ben Saul said today, this policy will ensure the courts will be clogged with people seeking their right to due process.”

In recent times, there have been many documented cases of Sri Lankan government persecution of Tamil asylum-seekers forcibly sent back home.

Dozens tortured: HRW

Elaine Pearson, the director of the new Australian office for Human Rights Watch, told Fairfax media in July last year that her organisation had uncovered more than a dozen cases of asylum seekers tortured after being returned from Britain. “We’ve documented cases of at least 13 people who’ve been returned to Sri Lanka, all Tamils, and who’ve faced arbitrary arrest, torture, in some cases rape, by government officials upon their return,” she said.

Aran Mylvaganam, from the Tamil Refugee Council, said he had spoken recently to the relatives of one Tamil asylum- seeker family – a husband, wife and two children – sent back to Sri Lanka from Christmas Island under the Labor Government’s policy that severely restricts the time and legal access given to arrivals to make a case for refugee status.

“The Sri Lankan authorities took the man and woman to jail and the children had to go to live with relatives. This is an example of what is happening, and now the Coalition is going to make it worse for these people, if that’s possible given the Labor Government inhumane policies.”

Another example of a family that could suffer under the Coalition policy is a widowed grandmother in her late forties, her three daughters and her nine-year-old grandson.

Sexual assault

From Trincomalee in eastern Sri Lanka, they arrived by boat at Christmas Island in May. *Durga, the grandmother, said her husband, who belonged to the Tamil Tigers, was taken away in a white van in 1997 and has not been seen since. She said she was targeted by authorities for organising remembrance events for Tamil Tiger war dead.

“Last year around October, the army took two of my daughters into custody for 24 hours and sexually assaulted them. When they came another time I told my daughters to hide. They took me instead. They slapped me and beat me but they didn’t do any sexual torture. They just talked sexually to me,” she said, through an interpreter.

“I’m very scared for my daughters’ lives if they are sent back to Sri Lanka. I have seen many people being sent back whose lives are at risk.”

*Name changed to protect identity.

© JDS