Australia High Court rules high seas detention of asylum seekers lawful News
Australia High Court rules high seas detention of asylum seekers lawful

[JURIST] The High Court of Australia [official website] on Wednesday ruled [judgment] that the off-shore detention of more than 150 ethnic Tamil refugees aboard an Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) [official website] vessel was lawful under the Maritime Powers Act of 2013 [text]. The case was brought by 157 Tamil refugees fleeing Sri Lanka aboard an Indian-flagged vessel, who were intercepted by ACBPS in Australian waters and detained aboard the ACBPS ship while the National Security Committee of Cabinet determined what was to be done with them. After nearly a month aboard the ACBPS ship, the refugees were taken into immigration detention [TIME report], where they have remained ever since. The High Court ruled that the authority to detain persons on the high seas under the Maritime Powers Act was not subject to an obligation to afford prospective detainees procedural fairness.

Australia has faced sharp criticism internationally for its policies regarding refugees, asylum and undocumented immigrants. Last February the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] called for changes to the way Australia deals with refugees [JURIST report] seeking asylum, especially in regards to the lengthy detention of asylum-seekers. That same month the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) [official website] launched an official government inquiry [JURIST report] into the ways in which immigration detention affects the health, well-being and development of child detainees. According to AHRC, more than 1,000 undocumented immigrant children were at that time being detained behind “wire and steel fences” at closed detention facilities throughout Australia. In 2013 the UN Human Rights Committee condemned Australia’s indefinite detention of 46 recognized refugees [JURIST report] on security grounds as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.