IMMIGRATION minister Chris Bowen has agreed to process 57 Tamil asylum seekers' protection claims a day after they were due to be deported.
High Court Justice John Heydon granted the asylum seekers a last-minute injunction to their deportation on Monday, after they alleged Mr Bowen was trying to send them back to Sri Lanka without any proper inquiry or any cause.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre's Pamela Curr said they were only asked one question - ''Why did you come here?'' - before arrangements were made for their deportation.
Mr Bowen's lawyer, Dale Watson, promised he would present the High Court with information about a sample group of the 57 asylum seekers on Thursday, which Justice Heydon said ''would explain when and how they came to Australia and what inquiries have been made into the prospects for them if they were to be returned to Sri Lanka''.
Michael Jones, for the asylum seekers, said he received a letter from Mr Bowen's lawyers on Wednesday morning, advising that their claims would be processed, which meant they would not need to present evidence of their assessment prior to the minister's decision to deport them.
Mr Jones said Mr Bowen had tried to ''screen out'' the asylum seekers - a practice in which specific questions were asked so that asylum seekers could not be assessed as genuine refugees.
''There shouldn't be a line drawn in the sand whereby if a person doesn't say the right thing in the first meeting with officials they lose any chance they might have [of protection], unless they manage to get a case in the courts,'' he said.
''These people are clearly told by the immigration authorities they had refugee claims and at that point they should have been processed. We shouldn't have had to go to court about it.''
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Mr Bowen confirmed that there were no plans to ''return this group to Sri Lanka in the foreseeable future''.
But she did not rule out sending them back to Sri Lanka later, and said they could be processed offshore on Nauru or Manus Island.
She would not comment on why the minister had changed his mind, or on the assessments that led to the original decision to deport the asylum seekers, saying she could not discuss individual claims.
''The process and then removal of people who make economic claims or who otherwise make unfounded claims for protection is consistent with Australia's obligations,'' she said.
''This process has been used for many years across successive governments, and for air as well as sea arrivals.
''Where appropriate, the government will continue to return people where they do not engage Australia's international obligations.''
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the government was trying to avoid public scrutiny of the practice of ''screening out'' asylum seekers.
''It has virtually admitted that it cannot defend the way the way in which screening-out decisions are being made.''
Mr Bowen's spokeswoman said that the process by which the Tamil asylum seekers were assessed was ''by no means unusual and is in line with our international obligations''.