The United Nations’ refugee agency has condemned Australia’s forced return of an asylum seeker to Sri Lanka without any assessment of his claim for protection, the Guardian reported on Friday.
The UN refugee agency has said the man, who was forced to return, is at serious risk of persecution in his homeland.
The UNHCR had sought assurances from the Australian government that the man would not be removed from the country and would be allowed to apply for protection.
However, the man had been forcibly removed from Villawood detention centre on Wednesday and flown back to Sri Lanka.
The Australian government has maintained that the man was removed because he missed its October 1 deadline to apply for protection, and was deemed not to be seeking protection.
However, lawyers appearing for the man said their client had a “credible claim” for protection, based on his Tamil ethnicity, and familial connection to the LTTE. It is not suggested he was a member of the LTTE.
A spokeswoman for the UNHCR, Catherine Stubberfield said the UN was aware of a number of asylum seekers who were unable to meet the government’s deadline of 1 October to submit their applications for asylum.
“Since July 2012, people who sought asylum by sea were excluded from lodging an application in Australia for up to four years. While they were all invited to apply by October 2016, some asylum seekers have been unable to complete this process within the time frame for a range of valid reasons, including a lack of access to legal representation. This was the case for the asylum seeker forcibly returned to Sri Lanka this week.”
It was a worrying breach of Australia’s international legal obligations, Stubberfield said.
“In this context, the return of an asylum-seeker - whose claim for international protection was not considered on its merits - presents a serious risk of return to danger or persecution.”
Regardless of ministerial deadlines, Australia is still legally bound by its non-refoulement obligations under the refugees’ convention. It cannot return a person to a place “where [their] life or freedom would be threatened,” Stubberfield said.