Lawyers representing a 10-month-old asylum seeker have blasted a Bill that would prevent children born in Australian detention centres from applying for protection visas.
Katie Robertson, an Associate in law firm Maurice Blackburn’s social justice department, told New Matilda the Bill appears to have been designed in response to a matter currently before the Federal Circuit Court, and could have dire consequences for 95 children born in mainland detention.
The case involves baby Ferouz, a Rohingya asylum seeker whose family had been placed in detention on Nauru.
Since Ferouz’s mother was transferred to Australia to give birth last year, lawyers have been fighting on behalf of her son, who they argue should not be classified as an ‘Unauthorised Maritime Arrival’ and has the right to obtain a protection visa.
“It’s very clear and very apparent that this section of the Bill is a response to this case,” Robertson said.
Robertson told New Matilda the retrospectivity of the legislation meant a legal victory for baby Ferouz and his family would be nullified if the Bill passes into law.
“Despite the fact this Bill has been dressed up as a win for a number of people who are currently still in Australia and have been previously unable to apply for a visa, there are a number of babies, including Ferouz, who are going to be much worse off,” Robertson said.
Robertson derided the Bill’s retrospective changes as “against the fundamental tenet of the rule of law in Australia”.
The backward looking nature of the legislation means that, if passed into law, it will spell trouble for 94 other babies born in detention and facing removal from the mainland.
These children have only remained in Australia because of an undertaking the Department of Immigration has given to lawyers representing them not to make any removals until after the Faruez case is resolved.
Concerns about the appropriateness of keeping children in detention on Nauru have been raised repeatedly at the Australian Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into children in detention, and there have been worrying signs of a spike in self-harm this week, including among the children held in the island’s detention centre.
The new legislation, a joint effort of the Palmer United Party and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, was introduced to parliament last Thursday and includes a range of major changes to Australian migration law.
A section of the Bill attempting to reintroduce two new types of Temporary Protection Visa has so far garnered the most attention.
Last week, the Human Rights Law Centre flagged concerns about the Bill’s retrospective reclassification of children born in detention.
“These children were born right here in Australian hospitals, yet the Bill seeks to classify them as unauthorised maritime arrivals and leave them liable to transfer offshore. Not only is that cruel, it’s patently absurd,” Director of Legal Advocacy Daniel Webb said.
Response from the Minister for Immigration has been sought.
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