July 08, Geneva: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today said it is deeply disturbed by the return of 41 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Sri Lanka by Australian authorities without proper screening and called for a full judicial review on the matter.
"We are deeply disturbed that Australian authorities on Sunday returned to Sri Lanka 41 people seeking asylum, apparently without adequate screening of their protection claims and needs," spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.
The High Commissioner said the international law requires that each and every case be properly and individually examined on its own merits.
"This is not something that can or should be done hurriedly, remotely and on the high seas, without procedural safeguards and due process guarantees for those involved."
According to the High Commissioner any returns, even from the high seas or in the territorial seas of other states, must be carried out in accordance with international law, under which refoulement and collective expulsions are strictly prohibited.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it is not clear whether the Australian Government has been given any assurances that the returnees will not face ill-treatment upon their return to Sri Lanka, nor is it clear how the Australian Government plans to monitor their treatment.
A Sri Lankan court today remanded five of the 41 asylum seekers and released 27 on bail while acquitting the minors under the age of 16. The five remanded by the court are believed to be the people smugglers.
The OHCHR welcomed the High Court of Australia’s issuance of an interim injunction against the return of 153 other Sri Lankan asylum seekers, reportedly including 37 children, intercepted by Australian authorities.
"We understand that since their interception more than a week ago, the individuals on this vessel have not been able to make contact with family members or refugee organizations," the OHCHR said in its statement.
"We hope the matter will be subject to a full judicial review in light of Australia's obligations under international law, including the principle of non-refoulement under the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child," the UN agency said.
The Australian government, consistently defending the decision to return the 41 asylum seekers without screening them on land as a measure to deter the people smugglers, said that it will continue to act in accordance with its international obligations, including applicable international conventions and to protect the safety of life at sea.