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Australia’s High Court ruled Wednesday that the government’s power to hold individuals indefinitely in immigration detention centers is illegal, a landmark ruling that overturned a nearly two-decade-old precedent that has significantly influenced the country’s border policies, the BBC reported.
The case involved a stateless Rohingya man – known by the pseudonym NZYQ – who has faced lifelong detention because no country has been willing to resettle him due to a criminal conviction for child sexual offenses.
The government said his detention was lawful and intended to remove him from Australia. Even so, a number of countries, including the United Kingdom and neighboring New Zealand, had refused to resettle him.
In its decision, the top court overturned a 2004 ruling that shaped Australia’s border policies. Known as the Al-Kateb v. Godwin case, the High Court found at the time that indefinite detention was lawful, as long as the government planned to eventually remove the person from the country.
But many individuals facing deportation contend that they are stateless with no resettlement prospects. Consequently, numerous asylum seekers find themselves in prolonged detention within the Australian immigration system, with an average detention lasting 708 days.
Currently, 124 individuals have been detained for more than five years, according to the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC).
A HRLC representative welcomed the decision, noting that it would have “life-changing consequences for people who have been detained for years without knowing when, or even if, they will ever be released.”
The ruling could result in the release of 92 people held in immigration centers under similar circumstances to NZYQ. Nine of them are stateless, while the rest cannot be returned because of the threat of persecution.
The country’s solicitor general warned that the verdict could prompt a wave of compensation claims.