Media release August 23, 2010

While the parliamentary leaders of the Liberal and Labor parties haggle with independents over the outcome the weekend’s election, the immediate fate of thousands of asylum seekers facing off-shore processing may be settled in the High Court.

A High Court case testing the lawfulness of current off-shore processing arrangements on Christmas Island will begin tomorrow (Tuesday 24 August) in the High Court in Canberra.

A protest (details below), organised by the Refugee Action Coalition, will be held outside the Sydney High Court offices to highlight the significance of the case.

“Off-shore processing has always been an arbitrary arrangement administered by the government that denied rights to off-shore asylum arrivals and lacked genuine independence,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“The system has also been open to political interference. When the Rudd government announced the freeze on refugee applications by Sri Lankans and Afghans in April the rate of rejections shot up. Julia Gillard even boasted about the increased rejections, and threatened Sri Lankan asylum seekers that they would be returned to Sri Lanka.

“But those rejections are being overturned at rates of between 80 to 90 per cent, showing both the degree of the political manipulation and that the vast majority of the asylum seekers in detention are genuine refugees. The High Court case may well thwart government attempts to immediately deport asylum seekers.

“In their effort to make refugees the scapegoats of their election campaigns, both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott campaigned to stop the boats and extend off-shore processing.

“Yet there is a good chance that the High Court will find that Australia’s off-shore processing has always been unlawful. Julia Gillard’s proposed regional processing centre is nothing more than a version of Howard’s Pacific Solution. Australia has an obligation not to discriminate against asylum seekers regardless of how they arrive at Australia’s borders. Tony Abbott’s claim that he will re-open Nauru as a detention centre is criminal.

“The shameful election campaign of both political leaders, has increased the determination of the refugee movement to campaign for a humanitarian policy that welcomes refugees. The recent Compassion Caravan to Leonora detention centre has revealed the horror of long-term detention is again being inflicted on children and families.

“We want an end to off-shore processing on Christmas Island or anywhere else. Christmas Island must be closed and the visa freeze on Afghan asylum seekers must be lifted.”

Protest – No deportations, scrap off-shore processing: Sydney High Court, 9.30am Tuesday 24 August, Queens Square, 184 Philip Street. Speakers at the rally will include, Louise Boon Kuo, researcher and former refugee lawyer, NSW Legislative Council member Sylvia Hale and speakers from refugee communities.

For more information contact: Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713
Refugee Action Coalition Sydney

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