Politics

Confusion over what Australia will to do refugees at risk of harm if deported

A government lawyer has said it’s “no longer the case” that Australia won’t deport a refugee to a destination where they risk harm or death.

But the Department of Home Affairs insists that is not the Commonwealth’s approach.

The lawyer made the comment during a Federal Court case of an Iraqi man who appealed the government’s refusal to reinstate his visa.

The man’s visa was cancelled after he was convicted of aggravated sexual assault.

He argued that he would be held in indefinite detention in Australia if he didn’t get a visa, because the government could not send him back to Iraq.

A government lawyer has said it’s “no longer the case” that Australia won’t deport a refugee to a destination where they risk harm or death. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

He’s a part of a religious minority in Iraq and fled the country after his sister was kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed.

The government will not deport refugees in breach of “non-refoulement obligations”, where it’s recognised they would be seriously harmed or killed if returned to their home country.

But a lawyer for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told the Federal Court at the February hearing that “it’s no longer the case that the minister won’t, in an appropriate case, seek to remove someone even though accepting their non-refoulement obligations”.

Refoulement is the forcible return of asylum seekers to a country where they are likely to face persecution.

Signage for the Federal Court of Australia (file image)
An Iraqi man convicted of a sex assault has appealed to have his visa reinstated. Credit: AAP

A ministerial direction to bureaucrats, issued by a previous immigration minister, says “Australia will not remove a non-citizen … to the country in respect of which the non-refoulement obligation exists”.

However the government lawyer told the court in February that statement was “not entirely correct” and that the direction “might need some updating”.

A direction due to replace it in April says that when the government is deciding to deport people, it is irrelevant whether Australia has non-refoulement obligations.

The lawyer also said that much had changed and the minister was “more than prepared to proceed on the basis that Australia would breach its non-refoulement obligations and return the appellant to Iraq, even though it had been accepted that he was likely to be harmed or killed there”.

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