Since October 2012, people seeking asylum arriving by boat from Sri Lanka have been subject to ‘enhanced screening’. Under this process, these people are interviewed by two officers from the Department of Immigration about their reasons for travelling to Australia. If they raise concerns which suggest they may have a valid protection claim, they are ‘screened in’ so that their claims can be formally processed. If they do not raise any protection concerns, they are ‘screened out’ and returned to their country of origin without having the opportunity to formally lodge a protection claim.
This system lacks transparency and denies people the opportunity to have their claims fairly assessed. More than 1,000 people have been ‘screened out’ and returned to Sri Lanka since this system was introduced.
In July 2014, a group of 41 Sri Lankan people who had attempted to enter Australia by boat were intercepted by Australian authorities and screened at sea before being returned to Sri Lanka. Some subsequently fled to Nepal where they were found to be refugees by UNHCR. Another group of 12 Sri Lankans whose boat was intercepted by the Australian authorities near Cocos Island in May 2016 were also screened at sea before being flown to Sri Lanka. They were reportedly arrested on arrival at Colombo airport.
This ‘enhanced screening’ process has been expanded to people from Vietnam. In March and July 2015, two boats carrying Vietnamese people seeking asylum were intercepted by the Australian navy and their passengers underwent enhanced screening before being returned to Vietnam. Those on the first boat were held at sea for nearly a month. Some have reportedly been since tried in Vietnam and sentenced to two to three years in prison.