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People coming to Australia seeking asylum should be treated with respect and compassion and not subjected to questionable and even illegal practices on the part of the authorities.

We are proud to have represented many asylum seekers who have been appallingly mistreated and denied their human rights. That is why the firm fought for more than 100 children and babies living in detention centres around the country, including baby Ferouz, who was born in Australia in 2013 to an asylum seeker family from a persecuted minority group in Myanmar.

A picture of the barbed wire fence surrounding a detention centre

Unlawful detention of people seeking asylum class action

This pro-bono case is significant in shining a light on the Commonwealth’s harsh border policies and in challenging the unlawful detention of detainees under Australian law.

From 2017-2021, the Social Justice Practice run a pro bono class action challenging the indefinite nature of immigration detention. This class action, known as DBE17, argued that there should be a reasonable period for the processing visas by the Federal Government after which continued, indefinite detention would be unlawful. The case also argued that it was unlawful to keep individuals indefinitely detained for the purpose of sending them to an offshore processing centre when that country had already made it clear that individual was not eligible to enter (for example, they were too young). 

This case highlighted the way in which Immigration detention, let alone on isolated and remote islands, is completely inappropriate for anyone, let alone children. During the case, the Social Justice Practice gathered testimony of the countless stories of despair, violence, sexual assault, inadequate education and poor healthcare that has faced people seeking asylum in both onshore and offshore detention.   

Removing babies from mandatory detention

We, along with the Australian Human Rights Commission, the United Nations, and a number of church groups and medical organisations continue to firmly believe that detention centres, including on Nauru, are no place for babies and children.

That is why the firm fought to ensure that more than 100 children and babies living in detention centres around the country were not sent to offshore detention centres in 2014. The babies included baby Ferouz, who was born in Australia in 2013 to an asylum seeker family from a persecuted minority group in Myanmar.

For over a year, we have fought for the children and babies, on a pro-bono basis, including running cases in the both the Federal and High Courts of Australia. At the heart of each of these cases was a strong belief that Australian-born babies were entitled to Australia’s protection and should not be sent to Nauru or Manus Island, and also that as a country, Australia could do better than keeping children in detention.

On December 18 2014, in light of this campaign and more than a year after legal action first commenced for Ferouz and the other Australian-born babies living in detention, the then Minister for Immigration announced that the remaining 31 babies would also be released from detention and be allowed to remain in Australia to have their protection claims assessed. This announcement meant that all 109 children and babies that we represented were released from detention.

Protecting women in Australia’s offshore detention centres

In 2015 a young woman was allegedly raped on her way back to Australia’s offshore detention centre on Nauru after visiting friends. The woman was bought to Australia for treatment after she stopped eating and suffered kidney damage. The Minister of Immigration  indicated at the time that she may be forced to return to Nauru, where she would certainly face her alleged perpetrator.

For a number of years. Maurice Blackburn has been representing this woman, and other individuals, in pro bono compensation cases regarding alleged assaults in Australia’s offshore detention centres.

 In 2018 Maurice Blackburn Lawyers brought multiple legal proceedings for children and adult refugees and asylum-seekers to medically evacuate them from Nauru to Australia to ensure that lifesaving medical treatment and care could be received. 

As the first plaintiff law firm in Australia to take on these cases, we worked closely with the Refugee sector to ensure that the rights of asylum seekers and refugees were upheld and appropriate medical care could be accessed. 

Having succeeded in securing urgent medical evacuations for a number of refugees, Maurice Blackburn is continuing to represent these clients in compensation claims against the Commonwealth of Australia for the harm and loss they have suffered. 

In 2020, two of these ground-breaking cases went before the High Court to test the parameters of the Federal Court’s power to hear the ongoing legal proceedings. 

Importantly, the High Court decision was favourable to our clients and over 50 other matters before the Court of a similar nature. This outcome has ensured that these legal claims can be heard in the Federal Court, where we allege that our clients, young children, were injured as result of the negligence of the Commonwealth.

These cases continue before the courts and we continue to fight for the rights of Asylum Seekers and refugees.    

Protecting children from harm in detention centres

In April 2017 the Australian Government settled a case that we ran pro-bono on behalf of ‘AS’, a child who was detained on Christmas Island at age five, when she arrived in Australia with her parents by boat.

Her treatment in detention caused the girl significant psychiatric and physical harm, including post-traumatic stress disorder and a recurrent dental infection.

Christmas Island detention centre

The case had highlighted the failures of the Commonwealth Government to provide adequate healthcare to children in its care who were seeking protection in Australia.

We are very proud to have been able to run this pro-bono matter – nothing can undo the appalling treatment that A.S. suffered, but the resolution of her case we hope will provide some measure of justice to help her and her family move forward with their lives in Australia.

We also hope that this case provides hope to the many thousands of people who have suffered and continue to suffer in detention, and to demand a better standard of treatment for children in detention from the Commonwealth Government.

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Our Canberra office is now closed, but our team continues to serve ACT clients and are available for phone and video appointments. If you need legal advice, please call us on 1800 675 346.

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