High Court challenge launched over punitive refugee law

Kat Wong |

Solicitor Hannah Dickinson says the laws are causing freed detainees significant anguish.
Solicitor Hannah Dickinson says the laws are causing freed detainees significant anguish.

A refugee is taking the government to the High Court, claiming rushed detainee monitoring laws are punitive, disproportionate, and violate basic human rights. 

In November, the government hastily pushed through legislation in an effort to contain and trace about 140 detainees who were freed after the High Court unanimously ruled indefinite immigration detention unlawful.

For the rest of their lives, they will be subject to a curfew from 10pm to 6am every day and required to wear ankle tracking bracelets around the clock.

Though some were convicted of serious offences such as child abuse and murder, others had faced charges for traffic offences, and all had served their entire sentences before being placed in indefinite immigration detention.

One of those freed was RVJB, a refugee who arrived in Australia with his family when he was 13 after escaping violence in Sudan. He faced various convictions in the justice system before being imprisoned at Christmas Island’s immigration detention centre for seven years. 

The 30-year-old has not committed any offence in the past eight years but is also subject to the same strict visa conditions, which have had an immense impact on his life.

“I was doing really good until they put on the monitor, put on the conditions, moved me out of my home with no answers,” he said.

“It shattered everything.”

Represented by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, RVJB’s lawyers will argue that the new laws are unconstitutional and interfere with his liberty, bodily integrity, privacy and dignity.

Principal solicitor at ASRC Hannah Dickinson says the laws are causing significant anguish and could have consequences for people’s health and ability to safely reintegrate into the community.

“Everyone should be treated equally before the law,” she said.

“Constitutional limits on government power are essential in a democratic society, preventing people being punished at will.”

Australians who have committed and served time for the same crimes as these immigrants are generally released into the community without such punitive conditions, leading the Greens and activists to accuse the government of creating a two-tiered system that discriminates based on citizenship status.

RVJB says he recognises  he made mistakes as a young man while fleeing trauma, and has worked hard to change himself and make something of his life.

But the new laws don’t allow him to move on.

“I’m still detained, even though I’m not in detention,” he said.

“I can’t sleep with nightmares, I’m being eaten from the inside.

“I just want to be treated like a human being. I want to be with my son. I want to work. I want to live without fear and shame.”