Weekly media round-up No. 45

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announced a proposal to apply a “national interest test” for permanent protection applications from people who arrive without a visa.  Refugee advocates have responded saying that a High Court challenge could be launched to refute the proposal.

There has been continued speculation about whether asylum seekers who left southern India on 13 June, and who appealed to refugee advocates last Friday, would be turned back to Sri Lanka. Human rights groups issued accusations that Australia breached international law amid reports that the Australian navy was deployed to pick up Tamil asylum seekers and hand them to the Sri Lankan authorities.

It is alleged that the asylum seekers’ claims were assessed through four questions on board via video link. The Guardian issued information from a former immigration department officer that the department has previously considered using Australian custom vessels to interview and process asylum seekers, but was advised the process could be unlawful.

Whether the vessels were turned around has not been confirmed. Sri Lankan and Indian authorities and government officials said they had not received any official information about this case, however The Australian reported that a Sri Lankan navy official claimed asylum seekers were picked up. The Australian Greens and the Labor immigration spokesman have called on the Prime Minister to give public details on the fate of the asylum seekers. A spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said that the department would not comment on operations. 

In a 3AW interview, Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted Australia was acting legally within its international obligations. He said that turning boats around, returning asylum seekers to Sri Lanka and the rapid on-board screening process were all “in accordance with the international law”.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) issued statistics that children account for the greatest percentage of self-harm incidents and suicidal behaviour by asylum seekers in detention. This was not confirmed by the International Health and Medical Services which is contracted to provide health care for asylum seekers in Australian detention. The AHRC also announced a third hearing for the commission’s inquiry into children in immigration detention, which would be held for “whistleblower employees” to give evidence.

PNG police are searching for a former Salvation Army employee, suspected of killing Reza Berati in the unrest in February on Manus Island, who has fled to PNG’s mainland. An asylum seeker who lost an eye during the riots has launched legal action against the federal government.

The ABC reported allegations that detainees in immigration detention facilities are put under pressure to 'volunteer' to go home before applying for asylum.