Australian freeze on asylum seekers may face challenge

SYDNEY, April 10, 2010 (AFP) – Australia’s decision to temporarily block asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka could face a legal challenge, lawyers said Saturday. On Friday, Canberra announced it would immediately stop taking fresh applications from asylum-seekers from those two countries, as it attempts to thwart people smuggling operations.

But the Australian Lawyers Alliance said the policy, which means new arrivals from those countries cannot apply for asylum for between three and six months, could breach the law by discriminating against Afghans and Sri Lankans.

“The law in Australia and the rule of law is such that laws have to be applied equally, irrespective of where a person comes from or their race,” the alliance’s Greg Barns told ABC Radio.

The government has said the changes have been introduced because of the improving and evolving situations in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, and comply with Australia’s international obligations to refugees.

But the country’s rights body, the Human Rights Commission, said there was a risk the policy would discriminate against people based on their nationality.

“The Australian Human Rights