UNHCR Statement

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency is dismayed by the forced return of an asylum-seeker from Australia to Sri Lanka this week.

UNHCR had sought assurances from the Government of Australia that the asylum-seeker would not be removed from Australia and would have access to Australia’s national asylum procedures.

UNHCR is aware of a number of people who were unable to meet the Government’s deadline of 1 October 2017 to submit their applications for asylum. Since July 2012, people who sought asylum by sea were excluded from lodging an application in Australia for up to four years.

While they were all invited to apply by October 2016, some asylum-seekers have been unable to complete this process within the timeframe for a range of valid reasons, including a lack of access to legal representation. This was the case for the asylum-seeker forcibly returned to Sri Lanka this week.

In this context, the return of an asylum-seeker whose claim for international protection was not considered on its merits presents a serious risk of return to danger or persecution (refoulement). All asylum-seekers are entitled to have their claims for refugee status considered fairly and in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a party.

The forced return of an asylum-seeker by Australia this week constitutes a worrying breach of Australia’s international obligations. Further information has been sought from the Government of Australia about other asylum-seekers who missed the deadline.

Media contact

Catherine STUBBERFIELD in Canberra, stubberf@unhcr.org, +61 424 545 569