Christmas Island's name attests to its colour and spectacular wildlife. But sadly, this place means anything but presents and goodwill for the asylum seekers who are detained there. Christmas Island Immigration Detention centre is a temporary processing facility which holds almost 3,000 asylum seekers who have arrived, in general, by boat.
Yesterday, the High Court of Australia held that the rule of law must be followed by decision makers employed by the Australian Government, including companies contracted by the Immigration Department.
The Court upheld a challenge by two Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers who had their refugee claims rejected. The men had tried to challenge the decision in the courts, but were unable due to their detention on Christmas Island.
The High Court voted unanimously that this was an error of law and that the two men were denied procedural fairness when Government contractors reviewed their case.
"According to the High Court, the persons employed by the contracting company engaged by the Department of Immigration to assess reviews of asylum seekers claims for refugee status "did not treat the provisions of the Migration Act 1958 (Commonwealth) and the decisions of Australian courts as binding, and, further, failed to observe the requirements of procedural fairness".
Bishop Joe Grech, Australian bishops' spokesperson on refugee matters said that it would probably be a surprise to Australians to know that asylum seekers' access to legal advice and the courts was not always satisfactory and at times could lead to serious danger if forced to return to their countries.
"It is a matter of great concern that people who are tasked with reviews that can be life or death matters are not required to consider the basic rules of Australian law", Bishop Grech said.
"Following this significant judgement, surely the time has come to address the situation and to consider seriously moving all asylum-seeker processing onshore", Bishop Grech said.
In a statement on Thursday immediately following the High Court's decision, the Catholic Church in Australia stated forcefully that, in their experience, the experience of detention, particularly in remote locations is unjust. This call comes from very concrete and distressing experiences gleaned from pastoral ministry on these detention centres.
The Church has been involved in the delivery of pastoral care to asylum seekers since the early days of Immigration Detention, most notably in Baxter and Woomera, but also in Port Hedland, Villawood, Maribyrnong, Curtin and others.
Since January, 2010 the Catholic Church in Australia has had a continuous collaborative ministry to asylum seekers on Christmas Island, which is administered by the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO), the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the Archdiocese of Perth (The Archdiocese under which Christmas Island falls).
JRS Australia Director Fr Sacha Bermudez Goldman SJ says that this is an extremely important work of presence, but that they wish it wasn't a necessary one.
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