Sovereign Borders: Detected, Intercepted and Removed 5e - Detention at Sea


Detention at Sea and Enforced Returns

A poster places in an A-frame is displaced on the pavement in a public space. The poster features the photo of a toddler wearing a blue and purple fairy dress and wings. The text reads 'Where is Febrina? Where are the 153 Tamil Asylum Seekers? Let Them Land, Let Them Stay'.

[imagecaption] Protest, Narrm (Melbourne), 2014. Photo: Tamil Refugee Council. [/imagecaption]

‘The people … were told to prepare at any time for the boats to be dropped into the ocean’.

Spokesperson for Tamil  asylum seekers  ordered to operate the orange lifeboats

‘I am 34 years old and I’ve never heard of refugees being treated like we have been anywhere in the world. We have been treated like animals’  

Man quoted in statement by the Tamil Refugee Council  


In June 2014, reports emerged of a group of 157 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers en route by boat to Christmas Island via India. Among those on board were 50 children, including three year-old Febrina, whose circumstances have been publicly reported. The boat was intercepted by the Australian navy and the people on board transferred to the ACV Ocean Protector.

Australia sought to return the group to India, reportedly ordering  several men to sail the orange life-boats back to India, though they had no sailing experience. They were provided with instructions in English –a language they did not speak — and a map of the Indian coast. The move placed all the passengers in a dangerous situation, while the men, who were told they had to follow orders although they could not understand the instructions and had no experience of navigation, were ‘terrified at the prospect of being dumped in the ocean on lifeboats without experience in navigating or operating a boat, and having to take the responsibility for the families on those boats’.

While a legal team worked to prevent the group’s refoulement, the asylum seekers were effectively detained at sea on the Ocean Protector. Reports suggested that families were separated; people detained were below deck in windowless rooms and were only allowed three hours a day outside. After more than a month at sea, they were transferred to Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia. About a week later they were secretly transferred to Nauru overnight, without the knowledge of their lawyers. The High Court later ruled that their detention at sea for a month was lawful. (See judgement: CPCF v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection)  

This move left women, like Durga*, a survivor of gendered violence in Sri Lanka, vulnerable to sexual assault in the Nauru camp, a site notorious for violence against women and children.


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