On Sunday 6 July the Australian Government returned 41 asylum seekers to Sri Lankan authorities. The asylum seekers’ claims were assessed at sea using the controversial ‘enhanced screening’ protocol, wherein a determination of possible refugee status is made on the basis of an on-board interview. Sri Lankan authorities said the asylum seekers face criminal charges and will be interrogated by officials from the country’s intelligence department. Australian legal scholars criticised the Australian Government’s handling of the episode.
In a separate incident, a High Court hearing on Tuesday 8 July confirmed an Australian customs vessel currently holds 153 asylum seekers on the high seas. The Australian Government said the asylum seekers were intercepted outside Australia’s migration zone and as such have no rights under the Australian Migration Act. Lawyers for the asylum seekers argued that repatriation would constitute a violation of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations. The full bench of the High Court will hear the matter within 21 days.
The Australian Government confirmed that ten women – including nine mothers – attempted suicide at Christmas Island. Refugee advocates said the mothers attempted suicide in the hope that their orphaned children would be granted permission to live in Australia. In response, Prime Minister Tony Abbot said the Government would not be held ‘over a moral barrel’. A leaked report showed a six-fold increase of self-harm in detention since the introduction of mandatory offshore resettlement.
The European Asylum Support Office released its annual report. The report said 435,760 persons applied for asylum in the European Union in 2013 - of these, approximately one third were granted refugee status.