ABF Targets Saudi Women Seeking Asylum

We are shocked and alarmed by allegations raised on ABC Four Corners on 4 Feb 19 about the Australian government stopping Saudi women from seeking asylum in Australia. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-04/border-force-accused-of-targeting-saudi-women-traveling-alone/10768036

The ABC claims that Australia has been cancelling the visas of women on route to Australia, and summarily returning a number of women to transit countries.

International Law

These actions are a clear violation of the right to seek asylum, enshrined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

The deportation of Saudi women subsequent to their arrival in Australia is particularly concerning. Australia has non-refoulement obligations under the Refugee Convention and various human rights treaties, prohibiting the return of asylum seekers to places where they would face certain types of persecution or harm. This extends to returning asylum seekers to transit countries where they may be at risk of being returned to their home country where they fear harm. In order to ensure compliance with its non-refoulement obligations, Australia must provide access to effective procedures for determining asylum claims. It has simply failed to do this.

Australian Law: The Migration Act

There are reports that the government may have ignored requests for asylum made by Saudi women who had reached Australia. The ABC has reported on two cases where Saudi women were turned back after making their asylum claims clear to immigration officers at Sydney Airport.

A person who requests asylum must be provided with the relevant application forms and be afforded all reasonable facilities to complete the forms and seek legal advice. This is particularly so for persons in immigration detention (the Four Corners report indicated that at least one of the women was transferred to an immigration detention facility). Under those circumstances, section 256 of the Migration Act 1958 creates a statutory right to access the required forms and assistance upon request from the detainee.

Dr Daniel Ghezelbash, National Justice Project (NJP) Special Counsel said, “This is straight from the government’s playbook. They used secrecy to avoid scrutiny of their turn-back operations, and now they are doing the same for asylum seekers that arrive in Australia by plane.”

“The government is dealing with these women behind closed doors and without independent observers present. Under such circumstances it is difficult to prove whether the magic words ‘I want to seek asylum’ were uttered or not. Had a formal asylum application been made, the women’s claim for a Protection Visa would have to be processed under the Migration Act, and they would have been afforded safeguards and avenues for appeal.”

NJP Director George Newhouse said, “If Australian Government officials have been checking to confirm that a woman’s male guardian has approved her trip to Australia then it’s a shocking practice that the Australian public would find totally offensive and obnoxious in a modern world.”

“It’s mind boggling to think the dystopian world of Margaret Atwood’s book “The Handmaids Tale” may have found its way into the Australian Immigration Department’s operational procedures”

For more information

Dr Daniel Ghezelbash, Special Counsel at the National Justice Project; Senior Lecturer at Macquarie Law School on +61414729474

Recent Publication: Refuge Lost: Asylum Law in an Interdependent World (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

Or Adj. Prof George Newhouse, Director of the National Justice Project on +61422255109