Sydney, Australia, Nov 9 (EFE).- The United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) on Thursday welcomed Australia’s landmark ruling that deemed indefinite immigration detention unlawful.
A refugee supporter holds up a sign as asylum seekers, who are being held in detention, protest at an inner city motel in Brisbane, Australia, 08 May 2020. EFE-EPA FILE/DAN PELED AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT
“UNHCR hopes this is the first step in creating a system of detention in which people are only deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort and when absolutely necessary,” said Adrian Edwards, the agency’s regional representative for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, in a statement.
Edwards added that while he was awaiting the publication of the judgement “to determine its full implications, the decision has the potential to begin to align Australia’s immigration detention practices with international law.”
Wednesday’s High Court ruling overturned a 20-year-old precedent set by the same court which determined it was legal to detain people indefinitely, provided they were removed from Australia as soon as reasonably practicable.
It’s a decision that could pave the way for the release of dozens of asylum seekers who cannot be returned to their country of origin but are still being detained by Australian authorities.
At the center of the case was NZYQ, a stateless Rohingya man who faced detention for life because no country had agreed to resettle him after serving time in jail for child sexual offenses.
The justices determined that since NZYQ had been detained when there was “no real prospect of his removal from Australia becoming practicable in the reasonably foreseeable future” his detention was unlawful, and ordered his immediate release from the immigration detention center where he was being held following the serving of his sentence.
“Regardless of whether someone has committed a crime in the past and for which they have served their sentence, the High Court has now made clear that immigration detention must not be punitive,” the UNHCR statement said.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Center (ASRC) also welcomed the court’s decision on Thursday and said it could “trigger the immediate release of 92 people, with the detention of 340 others in doubt, and with major implications for the management of detention into the future.”
It also noted that the government holds people in immigration detention for an average of 708 days, and that there are 124 who have detained for more than five years.
Many of the refugees and asylum seekers have fled conflicts in places such as Afghanistan, Darfur, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria. Others have escaped discrimination and persecution, such as the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and the Bidoon Arab minority in the Gulf region, which are both effectively stateless and unrecognized by their governments. EFE