Australia court rules against refugee plan

2011-08-31 13:15

Canberra - Australia's highest court ruled on Wednesday that asylum seekers can't be sent to Malaysia, a major blow to the government's plan to stem an influx of people from poor, war-torn countries attempting to reach Australia by boat.

The High Court reached a 6-1 majority decision to make permanent an injunction that has prevented Australia from transferring 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in return for Malaysia sending 4 000 registered refugees for resettlement. The ruling cannot be appealed.

Australia has long attracted asylum seekers hoping to start a new life, with more than 6 200 arriving by boat in 2010. Most are from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq, and use Malaysia or Indonesia as a starting point for a dangerous sea journey to Australia.

The government had maintained that the deal struck in consultation with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, would withstand any legal challenge.

Government lawyers had argued in court that Australia could lawfully declare Malaysia a safe third country to process refugee claims even though it had no domestic or international legal obligations to protect refugees.


The court said in a statement that Malaysia has not signed the UN Refugee Convention and the deal with Australia did not legally bind Malaysia to recognise the status of refugees under its domestic law. It said any suitable third country must have obligations under international or domestic law to protect asylum seekers and refugees.

The court also said Immigration Minister Chris Bowen had no legal power to remove from Australia asylum seekers whose refugee claims have not yet been determined. The government did not immediately comment on the ruling.

The case was brought to the court by 16 asylum seekers who were to become the first to be flown to Malaysia from the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

The government had planned to post video on social networking sites Facebook and YouTube showing the asylum seekers boarding the first chartered flight to Kuala Lumpur as a way of deterring others from coming by boat to Australia.

Malaysia has already begun sending registered refugees to Australia from among 93 000 now in that Asian nation under the deal.

The ruling came after two fires broke out on Wednesday at an immigration detention centre in northern Australia during a protest involving alleged people smugglers.

Both blazes were extinguished and no one was hurt, though there were reports some of the detainees were throwing objects at fire-fighters, an immigration department spokesperson said on customary condition of anonymity.


Most of the people involved in the protest at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin were Indonesian crew from boats carrying asylum seekers to Australia as part of people smuggling operations, the official said. He had no further details, and would not elaborate on what sparked the unrest.

Protests at detention centres have become relatively common.

The detainees involved in the protest were upset that officials had not agreed to certain requests regarding how they could celebrate the end of Ramadan, Islam's holy month of fasting, said refugee advocate Ian Rintoul, who spoke by phone with detainees inside the centre.

The fire caused extensive damage to 20 rooms, said Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. No asylum seekers were involved in the protest, he said.

  • RobertKay - 2011-08-31 13:32

    Australia will never be the same again, and is going the way Britain has been going for a while now. Get your riot gear ready - you're going to need it!

  • Abrie - 2011-08-31 13:38

    Now the Milk & Honey in the chosen Land will sour... Watch that space carefully....

      jowza - 2011-08-31 14:04


  • McDaNife - 2011-08-31 13:41

    Another brick in the wall for the Australian government. Well done the high court ruling.

  • Hendrik - 2011-08-31 13:57

    Aus is going down. Next thing you know they want free education, housing and healthcare without lifting a finger. Unemployment is going to rise. Riots here we come

      jowza - 2011-08-31 14:03

      who are they?are you talking about the english

      Jan - 2011-08-31 14:16

      No jowza the he is referring to the people that want everything for nothing sounds familiar?

      jowza - 2011-08-31 14:18

      like isaid jan.sounds like the dole system to me

  • kingkong - 2011-08-31 14:03

    There is a difference between people that would risk there life and the scum that abuse the system for self enrichment. I have seen them with there bogus African stories. They have asylum seeking training camps where they train you what to say.

  • mariemal - 2011-08-31 14:21

    Does Australia not learn from the lessons of other countries, France, Germany, England to name a few. These refugees arrive to live off the hard work and generosity of the Australian people and then proceed to insist that they are allowed to live the way that they wish to and if the are precluded from doing so, they cause mayhem. I think that the Australian government has bitten off more than it can chew and that in time it's refugee and immigation policies are going to come back to haunt them.

  • a.bryanh - 2011-08-31 14:49

    So who really runs Australia and most of the world as this is being done everywhere,I dont believe that the government really opposes the ruling and its just a way out for them from their dissenting public,when u look for trouble u normally get it,looks like that is what their masters want,no country wants freeloaders who end up unemployed troublemakers protected by their "human rights"what UTTER RUBBISH.

  • sipholess - 2011-08-31 16:02

    I see some really sour South African comments here. It's your "own" choice to live in a third world country with zero future. Dare I say ..........Good luck.

      a.bryanh - 2011-08-31 16:42

      You may,and good luck to u 2

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