The High Court’s Sri Lanka asylum seeker case: the legal issues

Originally posted on Castan Centre for Human Rights Law:

By Patrick Emerton

Yesterday’s High Court case concerning the fate of Tamil asylum seekers detained at sea by Australian authorities has been adjourned until Friday.

The case raises a range of legal questions. These go to the legality of the Australian Government’s policy towards, and treatment of, asylum seekers. They also go to broader questions concerning the relationship between Australian domestic law and international law.

When it comes to dealing with asylum seekers, the Australian Government has three principal sources of power.

The most commonly-used is the Migration Act 1958. Under this law, Australian officials are empowered (and in some circumstances obliged) to detain people in Australian waters who do not have visas.

The High Court of AustraliaThis does not seem to be directly relevant in the current matter, though, as the asylum seekers were not detained within Australian waters. This is why the Solicitor-General, representing the Australian Government in the…

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Interception of Asylum Seekers on the High Seas: A Bibliography


A              Books

Anderson, David, Modern Law of the Sea: Selected Essays (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008)

Blake, Nicholas J and Great Britain, Immigration, Asylum, and Human Rights (Oxford University Press, 2003)

Caminos, Hugo (ed), Law of the Sea (Ashgate/Dartmouth, 2001)

Continue reading

Asylum Seekers: Tales of Survival

Nineteen young people from diverse cultures and faith came together to learn how to shoot, edit and produce a short documentary film.

Asylum Seekers: Tales of Survival is the short documentary our group produced. The group consisted of Arif Hazara, Baqir Alidad, Barney, Chaichana and Rumia Mukhtar.

This documentary explores the experiences of Asylum Seekers and Refugees living in Australia.

The Freedom Interviews: Mark Isaacs

Originally Published in Right Now.

Right Now’s Asher Hirsch speaks to Mark Isaacs about his experiences working for the Salvation Army in the Nauru Offshore Processing Centre and about his new book, The Undesirables.

Right Now: When you landed in Nauru what were your first thoughts and feelings? Can you describe a little bit about what Nauru is like as a country?

Mark Isaacs: The first thing you notice about Nauru is that it is a really small country. There are about ten thousand people on it and when the plane comes into the land, the whole island is engulfed by the airplane. One of the asylum seekers thought he was landing on water.

It is extremely hot. We arrived just prior to the wet season and that took a while to get used to. The centre of the island is mined-out phosphate rock. in the centre of the mined-out phosphate rock is where the detention centre is, or at least the one that I worked at. It is a hot, barren landscape.

It is a very poor island. Around the edges you have these beautiful tropical beaches and palm trees, then you quickly realise dilapidated housing, deteriorated infrastructure, old and abandoned cars. There is no fresh food on the island and a high unemployment rate – there are a lot of people sitting around doing nothing. When Australia says, “we will give you a few billion dollars to hold asylum seekers”, it seems like an acceptable offer to a poor country like Nauru.

Going into the detention centre, what were you told by the Salvation Army about what you were meant to be doing there? Continue reading

Q&A Panel: The High Court and the Asylum Case

The High Court of Australia is poised to hear arguments about whether it is legal for the Australian government to intercept, detain and remove asylum seekers on boats outside Australia’s territorial waters.

What are the legal questions before the High Court? What are the government’s international law obligations? What avenues are open to the High Court? What might this mean for the future of Australian asylum policy?

In this Q&A panel, four legal experts will consider these and other issues:
Professor Jane McAdam (UNSW), expert on international refugee law
Professor George Williams (UNSW), expert on constitutional law
Associate Professor Tim Stephens (Sydney University), expert on the law of the sea
Edward Santow (Public Interest Advocacy Centre), expert on administrative law and co-author of Island of Impunity? Investigation into international crimes in the final stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War

The panel will be chaired by Steven Glass, partner at Gilbert + Tobin. The Kaldor Centre is grateful to Gilbert + Tobin for kindly hosting the event.

Dear bird


“Dear bird send my message. Send an image of my eyes – to Abbott – where tears are rolling like a river, send my heart full of sorrow, send my mind full of thoughts, send him images of why I came. Dear bird send my message. Send my emotions to Morrison who is enjoying my pain, who does not think that I am a human being like him, who thinks that I am just a number the waste of population.”

17 year old asylum seeker in detention.