News Update: We Don’t Know How Many Asylum Seekers are Turned Away at Australian Airports

The Department of Home Affairs does not keep a record of how many people apply for asylum at Australian airports and how many are turned away. This means that there is a lack of accountability and oversight by Australian immigration officials with regard to those seeking asylum at Australian airports. The Border Force official who interviews them makes the decision as to whether to admit or deny an asylum seeker into Australia. As such, an asylum seeker could be refused admission after being interviewed behind closed doors and without access to lawyers.

In recent years, at least 80 Saudi women have sought asylum. Many have fled their country due to oppressive male guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia. However, many of them were interrogated by the Australian officials at the airport who tried to search for the signs of asylum intent and did not let them make an asylum claim. By seeking an asylum claim at the airport, they were detained and deported without a chance to apply for protection or access to lawyers, in violation of s 256 of the Migration Act.

Australia has non-refoulement obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, human rights treaties and customary international law. Under these obligations, Australia may not refuse admission of asylum seekers and send them back to a country where they may be at harm. Australia must fairly and efficiently assess the asylum claims.

The Department of Home Affairs set out the procedures to follow when an asylum claim is made at immigration clearance. The policies require that if the person raises protection related claims, the interviewing officer should interview the person for a second time and explore the protection claims. Also, if the person makes a prima facie protection claim that is not considered to be ‘far-fetched and fanciful’, they must be permitted to enter Australia as part of the non-refoulement obligation.

In the case of the two Saudi women, it is unknown whether the Department followed its own policies. Even if the policy was followed, the interviewing officer retains much discretion and there are no clear standards to follow when determining whether or not a claim is ‘far-fetched and fanciful’ as the words are not defined in the Migration Act or the Migration Regulation. If Australia returned these women without proper consideration of their asylum claims, it will be in breach of its international obligations.


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