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Court Upholds Australia's Asylum Law - 2004-08-06

Australia's highest court has upheld the government's policy on asylum seekers by ruling that it can indefinitely detain those who enter illegally. The court ruled on the cases of two men, a Palestinian and an Iraqi, who have been held since the government rejected their asylum applications.

The High Court's ruling on the policy of detaining asylum seekers who enter the country illegally is a blow to the two men who filed the suit.

Ahmed Ali al-Kateb and Abbas Mohammad Hasan al- Khafaji are effectively stateless.

Mr. al-Kateb is a 28-year-old Palestinian who was born in Kuwait, where he spent most of his life. He arrived in Australia in December 2000. When his application for asylum was rejected, he asked to be sent to either Kuwait or Gaza. The Australian government has been unable to get him accepted in either place.

Mr. al Khafaji is an Iraqi who fled with his family to Syria in 1980. He was detained when he arrived in Australia in January 2000. When his asylum request was turned down, he asked to be repatriated to Syria, which refused to accept him.

After Friday's ruling, his lawyer, Jeremy Moore, says Australia should be ashamed of the way Mr. al Khafaji has been treated. "The government's made a mistake. This man should never have been locked up for the period that he was locked up," he said. "He should've been granted refugee status. He's entitled to that and he's entitled to live in Australia as a refugee."

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone welcomed the court ruling and denies that asylum seekers were treated unfairly.

The Australian government accepts more than 10,000 people a year after they have applied for and received refugee status overseas. In what it says is an effort to stop human trafficking and illegal immigration, the government detains all asylum seekers who enter the country without proper documentation. They can be held for three or four years as their asylum applications are processed, and appeals are heard.

That uncompromising approach has drawn international criticism from human rights groups.