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Lawyers fight for Sri Lankan asylum seekers

The group of Tamil asylum seekers have already been recognised as refugees by Indian authorities and should be brought to Australia, lawyer George Newhouse tells 2UE's Andrew Voss.

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Scott Morrison is now a victim of his own triumphalism.

Having used every opportunity to trumpet the success of his hardline approach to stopping the boats, the Immigration Minister alone has determined that any arrival, under any circumstances, for any duration, will be viewed as a sign of policy failure.

Keeping mum: Scott Morrison.

Withholding information: Scott Morrison. Photo: Andrew Meares

So, rather than risk being accused of weakness, the minister is prepared to hand asylum seekers back to the very authorities they say forced them to flee their homelands after what appears to be the most superficial assessment of their claims.

"Enhanced screening" of claims for refugee status is an imperfect mechanism at best when applied to asylum seekers who have been taken ashore - and quite possibly in breach of Australia's obligations under the refugee convention.

As the United Nations refugee agency has made plain, claims for protection should be determined through a ''substantive and fair'' process to establish whether they may be at risk of persecution or other human rights violations.

Asking a few questions and making a decision on the basis of top-of-the-head responses hardly fits that description. But enhanced screening is far more controversial, and far more problematic, when applied on the high seas to asylum seekers who are stressed, anxious and fearful.

In a sense, it is even more radical than turning back boats that have set off from a transit country, because the asylum seekers face return to the country from which they fled - the country in which they say they face persecution.

Had Morrison not used every question time in Parliament to taunt the Labor Party over its policy failures, invariably giving the latest tally of how many days since a boat arrived (it was 200 days on Monday), it would have been unremarkable for him to have the claims of Sri Lankan asylum seekers assessed on Christmas Island.

But he has raised the bar so high that anything remotely nuanced seems to be off limits.

Had he not chosen to withhold information, on the grounds that operations could be compromised, it would be far easier to establish if Australia is honouring its obligations.

The minister's response is to say ''trust us'', but that is not the way the system works, especially where people's lives are involved. Transparency, accountability and checks and balance are all essential, even where those in charge have earned the trust of those they are supposed to serve.

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