CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Eighty people, including convicted criminals considered dangerous, have been released from Australian migrant detention centers since the High Court ruled last week that their indefinite detention was unconstitutional, the immigration minister said Monday.
A member of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority won freedom Wednesday when the court outlawed his indefinite detention.
Australia has been unable to find any country willing to resettle the man, identified only as NZYQ, because he had been convicted of raping a 10-year-old boy, and authorities consider him a danger to the Australian community.
The court overturned a 2004 High Court precedent set in the case of a Palestinian man, Ahmed Al-Kateb, that found stateless people could be held indefinitely in detention.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said NZYQ is one of 80 people who had been detained indefinitely and have been freed since Wednesday’s ruling.
“It is important to note that the High Court hasn’t yet provided reasons for its decision, so the full ramifications of the decision won’t be able to be determined,” Giles said.
“We have been required, though, to release people almost immediately in order to abide by the decision,” he added.
All 80 were released with appropriate visa conditions determined by factors including an individual’s criminal record, Giles said.
“Community safety has been our number one priority in anticipation of the decision and since it’s been handed down,” he said.
At a Parliament session later in the day, opposition lawmaker Dan Tehan questioned why the government had not drafted new laws to “keep Australians safe from these criminals.”
“The decision to release 80 hard-core criminals will result in more violent crimes against Australians,” Tehan said.
Giles suggested new laws could be introduced once the government examined the judges’ reasons for their decision.
“We continue to consider all measures that may be available to strengthen our protection of the community,” he told Parliament.
Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue told the court last week that 92 people in detention were in similar circumstances to NZYQ in that no other country would accept them.
“The more undesirable they are … the more difficult it is to remove them to any other country in the world, the stronger their case for admission into the Australian community — that is the practical ramifications” of outlawing indefinite detention, Donaghue said.
NZYQ came to Australia in a people smuggling boat in 2012. He had been in detention since January 2015 after he was charged with raping a child and his visa was canceled.
Ian Rintoul, Sydney-based director of the Australian advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition, said it was unclear on what basis detainees were being released.
One detainee from the restive Indonesian province of West Papua has been in a Sydney detention center for 15 years and has not been freed, Rintoul said.
Not all the detainees were stateless. Iran will accept its citizens only if they return voluntarily from Australia, and Australia has stopped deporting Afghans since the Taliban took control, Rintoul said.