SYDNEY, July 8, 2014 (AFP) – Australian government lawyers said Tuesday 153 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers were in custody on the high seas and agreed to give three days’ notice before handing any back to Colombo, as criticism mounted. A late-night interim injunction Monday temporarily halted the transfer of the would-be refugees from the boat, whose very existence Canberra had previously refused to confirm.
Lawyers acting for about one-third of the mostly minority ethnic Tamils on board took their case to the High Court Tuesday, arguing that a transfer would be illegal and that they should not be returned to Sri Lanka against their will.
The court has yet to decide whether there is a case to answer. But in a submission government lawyers said the boat, which was believed to have set sail from India, was intercepted outside Australian territorial waters.
Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson said this meant any claims made under the Australian Migration Act were not applicable.
But he gave an undertaking that 72 hours’ notice would be given before any of the asylum-seekers, now reportedly held on a Customs boat, were handed back to Colombo.
The legal dispute, which was adjourned until Friday, came after another vess