High Court puts interim block on Sri Lankan asylum transfer

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is facing trouble from a High Court test to his asylum policy. AAP/David Crosling

The High Court has issued a temporary injunction to stop the Australian government transferring more than 150 asylum seekers, who are on a boat unheard of publicly for more than a week, to Sri Lankan authorities.

The injunction, which applies until this afternoon, was issued by Justice Susan Crennan in Sydney yesterday. This followed the government announcing earlier yesterday that 41 Sri Lankan nationals from another boat had been transferred at sea from an Australian border protection command vessel to Sri Lankan authorities just outside the port of Batticaloa.

The people had been subjected to “an enhanced screening process” to ensure Australia complied with its international obligations, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said.

Sydney solicitor George Newhouse, acting for 48 Tamils on the boat in the High Court case, said it was believed all 153 passengers were Tamils, although this was not certain. There are women and children on the boat.

Newhouse told The Conversation last night it was not known where the boat was. Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul was last in contact with people on the boat more than a week ago.

Newhouse said these people were being held captive by the government. “It’s all being done in breach of the migration act. Its a form of rendition,” he said.

Barrister Ron Merkel is appearing in the case for the asylum seekers.

Newhouse said it had been argued that they were being imprisoned by the Commonwealth without proper cause. When the case resumed it would be maintained that their legal claims for protection had not been dealt with in accordance with Australian law.

In his statement, Morrison said that only one of the people who had been transferred to the Sri Lankan authorities on Sunday had been found to have a case that justified further processing. But this person, a Sinhalese Sri Lankan national, voluntarily requested to leave the vessel with the people being transferred. The group included 37 Sinhalese and four Tamil Sri Lankan nationals.