UPDATE: 153 asylum seekers held on customs vessel, in rooms without windows.
Fairfax has reported that approximately 153 asylum seekers – the Sri Lankan Tamils whose boat was intercepted by Australian authorities near Christmas Island two weeks ago – are being held on an Australian customs ship.
The rooms the asylum seekers are being held in reportedly do not have windows, and the people on board have not been informed about where they are positioned geographically nor told where they will be taken next. The passengers can only leave their rooms if they are accompanied by a guard.
The asylum seekers’ possessions have reportedly been taken from them, including mobile phones. Lawyers further claim that they are not being allowed “reasonable access” to legal advice.
These updates come from a document lodged with the High Court; the first news of the asylum seekers since the government said they were being held on a customs vessel weeks ago. The document was lodged as part of a case to determine whether the government has the power to intercept boats and take asylum seekers where it decides. The lawyers representing the asylum seekers are arguing that the government does not have the power to take these people to any country other than Australia, against their will.
UPDATE: The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is reporting that the 41 asylum seekers handed back to Sri Lanka by the Australian Navy last week have been charged and could face up to two years in jail.
This from the The Asylum Seeker’s Resource Centre Facebook page:
In 2006, the man who would one day be President of the United States, Barack Obama, asked a group of graduating university students to consider their community’s empathy deficit.
He worried that we were losing our ability to “put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room”.
Today, Australia is suffering from an empathy deficit. A deficit so great that I fear we may never repay it.
Our Government has confirmed that last week they intercepted a boat of 41 Sri Lankan asylum seekers, who were attempting to make the journey to Australia. Those on board had their refugee claims processed with questionably fast speed, assessed based on only a handful of questions and in all but one case, were rejected. This all happened while they remained on the water.
Every single person on that boat is now being returned to Sri Lanka, including the individual who was determined to possibly have a legitimate claim. The Australian Government says this individual chose to return voluntarily.