Forced asylum seeker transfer stopped amid airport protest

A 2001 file photo of Melbourne's Maribyrnong detention centre (AAP)

The forced transfer of an asylum seeker has been aborted amid passenger protests at Melbourne Airport.

A 19-year-old Tamil asylum seeker has been returned to a Melbourne detention facility after failing to board a flight for Darwin shortly after 9am on Tuesday.

SBS understands the transfer was cancelled after passengers on the flight protested against the actions by Department of Immigration and Border Protection staff.

Amanda Zivic from the Refugee Action Collective said protesters had gathered at the airport to protest the removal, amid fears he could be deported to Sri Lanka.

The Collective has stated that asylum seekers deported to Sri Lanka could face prison and, in some cases, torture.

Ms Zivic, who was among the small number of protesters at Melbourne Airport, told SBS that the man had been moved from the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre to a Broadmeadows transit facility before dawn.

She said the he had then been held inside an airport restroom while police officers spoke with Qantas staff.

“The police weren’t letting him out,” she said.

“He was in there for about two hours… I don’t know why that happened, whether it was a form of protest or that he was just terrified.”

Detainee transfers 'routine' for government

A spokeswoman for the Australian Federal Police denied reports that officers detained or sheltered the man in the restroom.

In a statement provided to SBS, the spokeswoman said officers were called to assist Department of Immigration and Border Protection staff.

“AFP Officers maintained a presence due to protest activity and later assisted Department of Immigration and Border Protection officers in leaving the airport with an escort,” she said.

The man’s intended flight was delayed before he was transported back to a Melbourne facility.

A spokeswoman for Qantas confirmed the disruption, telling SBS that "an aircraft is not the right place for people to conduct protests".

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SBS sought comment from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton regarding the transfer, primarily why it did not proceed and whether the asylum seeker was due to be deported.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed that the "routine transfer" did not proceed as planned. No comment was provided regarding future movements.

In a statement to SBS, the spokeswoman said that the transfer was a domestic movement, not a removal.

"The Department endeavours to minimise impact on other travellers in the course of transfer operations," she said.

"Detainee transfers are routine for the Department and can take place for a number of reasons, including medical appointments and operational purposes."

'Sri Lanka is still not safe for Tamils'

Aran Mylvaganam from the Tamil Refugee Council has voiced concerns for the man’s wellbeing.

In a statement provided to SBS, Mr Mylvaganam said the man had been denied a proper legal process.

“There were documents and discussion between lawyers and advocates acting for the man which have not been followed up on prior to his deportation,” he said.

Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective said there were fears that the man’s transfer to Darwin was the “first step to deportation to danger” in Sri Lanka.

In a statement, Mr Breen said asylum seekers deported to Sri Lanka could face prison and, in some cases, torture.

“Despite the change of government in Sri Lanka, it is still not safe for Tamils,” he said.

“Tamil areas remain under military occupation and the new government has pledged continuing 'cooperation' with the Abbott government over 'people smuggling’.”

Mr Breen said protesters had also gathered at the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre on Tuesday.

Call for Qantas to refuse forced transfers

The failed transfer comes one week after a man was banned from flying with Qantas after leaving a plane carrying a soon to be deported asylum seeker.

Paul Leary left a flight on February 2, after learning the asylum seeker – bound for Sri Lanka - was on board.

He was given a temporary ban from flying - sparking an online petition supported by more than 1600 people - which was lifted on Tuesday.

The Refugee Action Collective has also called on Qantas to refuse forced transfers of asylum seekers. 

The action follows a scathing report from the United Nations, whose special rapporteur on torture said some of Australia's policies have breached the United Nations Convention against Torture.

The report was dismissed by Prime MInister Tony Abbott on Monday, who told reporters that "Australians are sick of being lectured to".

“I think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations, particularly given that we have stopped the boats,” Mr Abbott said.

“The most humanitarian, the most decent, the most compassionate thing you can do is stop these boats.”

Source SBS

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