(Transcript from World News Radio)
Last month, the names, birth dates, arrival dates and locations of around 10,000 asylum-seekers were published on the department’s website.
Asylum advocates say despite the privacy breach, the government is attempting to continue the deportation of some asylum-seekers to their countries of origin.
And they say with their identities revealed, they could face further persecution.
The Refugee Action Coalition says several governments including those of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, China and Malaysia take a particular interest in their citizens claiming asylum in Australia.
And with the inadvertent publishing of the details of 10,000 asylum-seekers, the Coalition’s Ian Rintoul says the Australian government has served them up on a platter.
Mr Rintoul says steps must be taken now to prevent the asylum-seekers being sent home to face further persecution.
“We’re seeking an order from the court to prevent the government attempting to remove anyone who has made this application to the court. There have been attempts by the government in spite of individuals having been exposed via the data base there have been attempts by the government to remove some individuals who fall into that category.”
The Immigration Department admitted to the security blunder, but says despite the information being made public for several days it was hard to access.
John Southalan from Australian Lawyers for Human Rights says the disclosure of an asylum seeker’s identity leaves them in a vulnerable position.
“The exposure of their details leaves the potential that if they’re sent back they are more vulnerable to persecution because their details have been revealed. I think that is obviously the issue that is being ventilated in these proceedings and that is something that we would be very keen for the court to take notice of and then depending on the court’s decision for the government to be aware of that in any action they take in regards to these individuals.”
Mr Southalan says the case goes beyond Australian law.
“Under international law there are obligations on Australia that they can’t send people back if there is that well founded fear, and so the exposure of identities and more details about the claims that they made that could well have increased the risk that individuals could face.”
The Immigration Department says it’s putting in place arrangements to notify those who may have been affected by the data breach.
But Mr Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition says so far the onus has been on refugee supporters to spread the word.
“The government hasn’t made people aware obviously, they’re trying in so many ways to cover up their responsibilities and their actions. So they (asylum-seekers) are not being informed that this has happened. We’re doing the best that we can and other individuals and refugee advocates and some individual lawyers are trying to make their clients aware that they have exposed.”
The Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education, which is assisting dozens of asylum-seekers in their court applications, says the publication of identifying details of asylum-seekers is breach of human rights.
The Centre’s John Sweeney says he knows of a case in which an asylum-seeker stopped their deportation at the airport, by telling the authorities that his privacy has been breached.
Mr Sweeney says another asylum-seeker, who was happy to return to his country of origin, later changed his mind after being asked to sign an Immigration Department waiver relating to the breach of privacy.
He claims the waiver excused the federal government of any responsibility to the asylum-seeker if he faced persecution on returning home.
“The department was in the process of organising that person’s return. They asked that person to sign a waiver so that if anything happened to them, on preturn to their home country, as a result of the breach of privacy the department would not be held responsible. Seeing that piece of paper that person got very anxious, was worried now that their name would be known as someone who had sought asylum in Australia and would suffer imprisonment and not sure what else on return as a result so the person rejected signing that piece of paper.”
Mr Sweeney says he has not seen the document, as the asylum-seeker was not permitted to retain a copy.
He says Australia’s obligations in this matter are clear.
“Australia has a duty to respect their right to *non-refoulement. It’s a very clear human right not to be refouled. The duty of care to maintain confidentiality is part of that right, and human rights are inalienable. You can’t sell your human rights, you can’t sign it away, you can write all the waivers you like but they have no effect where it is concerning a human right. So I am very surprised that the Department of Immigration may have effectively asked someone to sign away their human right.”
*Non-refoulement is a principle of international law which forbids the rendering of a victim of persecution to their persecutor.”