Catholic refugee caught in legal limbo

The Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre (Wikimedia DIAC)

A Catholic refugee who fled civil war in Sri Lanka and Australia has agreed it must protect has been held in detention for more than 11 years, caught in a legal limbo. Source: The Guardian.

Alex – a pseudonym – has no criminal convictions and faces no charges. But he is one of the longest detained people in Australia’s immigration detention system.

In 2009, Alex fled Sri Lanka in what the Federal Court heard described as an “extraordinary emergency”.

Of Sinhalese ethnicity and a member of Sri Lanka’s Catholic minority, Alex had been kidnapped and mutilated because of his association with an opposition political party. His business partner was seized by security forces, before later being found dead.

The secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam waged a 26-year civil war against Sri Lankan government forces, with the violence reaching a brutal conclusion in May 2009.

In March 2009, Alex and 31 others pooled their money to buy a small fishing boat and flee Sri Lanka. They arrived in Australia waters on 22 April and were taken into immigration detention on Christmas Island.

Alex, while an organiser of the boat journey, made no profit from the trip. But because the boat was registered in his name, he was charged and convicted in 2010 of “organising the bringing of groups of non-citizens into Australia”, and sentenced to five years’ jail.

His conviction, however, was quashed on appeal, the Court of Appeal ruling that the jury had been misdirected over Alex’s defence that the boat journey had been organised in circumstances of a “sudden or extraordinary emergency”.

But despite the quashing of his conviction, Alex was sent into immigration detention, where he remains. He has been bounced between a string of onshore detention centres, and sent back to Christmas Island twice. He fears being sent back there again

He applied for a safe haven enterprise visa to live in Australia but was rejected by Immigration Minister David Coleman, who said he failed the “character test” provisions of Australia’s Migration Act. That decision was challenged in the Federal Court, and in February the court ordered that the minister again assess Alex’s claim.


Sri Lankan refugee detained by Australia for 11 years despite government ruling he’s owed protection (By Ben Doherty, The Guardian

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