The Federal Court in Sydney today (17 March 2017) has ruled that asylum seekers have the right to continue their legal fight to keep their mobile phones while in onshore immigration detention, following a class action brought by human rights lawyers the National Justice Project to prevent Serco and Border Force from seizing detainee phones.
Border Force had planned to confiscate all detainee phones and SIM cards on 19 February 2017, but were prevented by an temporary injunction obtained by the National Justice Project on behalf of all detainees with phones in detention. The government challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal Court to hear the application but that challenge has been dismissed and the case can now proceed.
National Justice Project Principal Solicitor George Newhouse, while welcoming today’s decision, emphasised that this is an ongoing matter and that the Government is likely to appeal, saying:
“This is a small but important victory, but it’s a long journey ahead and we’re up against a Government that will oppose human rights at every turn.”
Newhouse continued, “Seeking asylum does not make you a criminal. Mobile phones provide asylum seekers with vital access to the outside world, to loved ones and to advocates – their mental health and their families depend on this. The blanket ban on phones punishes innocent men, women and children and demonstrates the increasing criminalisation by this Government of asylum seekers who have committed no crime.”
Prior to this recent policy change, asylum seekers who arrived by air had a right to mobile phones as long as they have no camera or recording facility. The new policy would see all phones confiscated and anyone found in onshore detention with a phone punished.