By sending asylum seekers to Ashmore Reef,
government wanted to ensure boat arrivals could be legally detained offshore
Up to 1,600 cases of asylum seekers who were deemed to have entered Australia via Ashmore Reef
and therefore made subject to offshore processing may need to be revisited.
Ben Doherty – The Guardian – 24 July 2018
Australian customs ships intercepted asylum seeker boats and sailed those on board for days, not to Australia but to remote Ashmore Reef, so the asylum seekers could then be sent for offshore processing.
By sailing asylum seekers in Australian government vessels through Ashmore Reef – far closer to the coast of Indonesia than Australia – those asylum seekers were judged to be “offshore entries” to Australia, and therefore eligible to be sent to immigration centres on Nauru or Papua New Guinea.
Some of those taken through the reef remain in immigration detention still, more than five years later.
But that “offshore entry” connivance has been found to be unlawful.
A court judgment this month found that Australia’s attempted excision of the Ashmore and Cartier islands (of which the reef is a part) was invalid, and up to 1,600 asylum cases may need to be revisited because of careless legislative drafting.
The excision was believed to have existed for 11 years – between 2002 and 2013 – but the court found it was never valid because the lagoon at Ashmore Reef, declared a “proclaimed port” by the then immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, was never a port at all.
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