The High Court has granted a temporary reprieve to the first group of asylum seekers due to be transferred to Malaysia under the Government’s people-swap deal.
The Government had been preparing to send the first group of 16 asylum seekers to Malaysia at 11:30am today.
But in a special hearing of the High Court on Sunday, Justice Kenneth Hayne ordered a temporary injunction, stopping their removal until at least 4:15pm.
Refugee lawyer David Manne, who heads the legal team involved in the case, says the injunction gives them time to argue that sending asylum seekers to Malaysia is unlawful.
He says the group fears religious persecution in Malaysia.
“All of those that we are acting for want to be able to stay in Australia, which is a signatory to the refugees convention, and to be able to have their claims for refugee protection considered here, rather than being expelled to Malaysia where they fear they would not be protected and where they fear they would face the real risk of harm,” he said.
Mr Manne’s team represents 40 asylum seekers, including six minors, but the temporary injunction only affects 16 men who were set to leave for Malaysia today.
The lawyers also argue that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is the legal guardian of the unaccompanied minors in the group, and sending them to Malaysia would not be in their best interests.
Mr Manne says many of the asylum seekers are extremely fearful and distressed.
“This case is really about some very vulnerable people, asking the court whether the Australian Government has the legal power to expel them to Malaysia, where they fear that they will not be protected and they’ll be at real risk of harm,” he said outside the court.
A spokesman for Mr Bowen says the Government is not surprised at the legal challenge.
“No-one should doubt our resolve in this. We’re committed to breaking the people smugglers’ business model and deterring people from taking that very dangerous boat journey to Australia,” the spokesman said.
The injunction came on the same day a boat with 50 asylum seekers on board was intercepted north-east of Christmas Island – the second to arrive since the Malaysia agreement came into effect.