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Legal action over data breach 1 April 2014 Guardian

Asylum seekers taking legal action over data breach to be transferred

Government to send Villawood detainees to remote WA detention centre just a day before their case is heard

curtin detention centre
The 83 detainees will be sent to Curtin detention centre in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. Photograph: AAP/Amnesty International
Asylum seekers involved in legal action against the government following the public release of their personal details are being moved to a remote detention centre thousands of kilometres from their legal representatives just a day before their case is due to be heard in court.
A letter from the Department of Immigration sent to 83 detainees in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre on Monday, obtained by Guardian Australia, informs them they will be moved to Curtin detention centre in Western Australia on Thursday. The next directions hearing for Villawood detainees challenging the government over the breach is on Friday.
Lawyers working with the detainees, many of whom are among those bringing the proceedings, expressed concern that the decision to move their clients was directly interfering with the judicial process.
Michaela Byers, a solicitor representing dozens of Villawood detainees, said the department had acted “in bad faith”.
“How will I be able to offer instructions from the other side of the continent with no access to free phone interpreters following the cuts to assistance announced on Monday? I won’t be able to effectively represent them and the Department are completely aware and, I believe, acting in bad faith. This will frustrate our whole application to the federal court.”
The letter from the department cites “refurbishment” work at Villawood as the reason for the transfer. It says asylum seekers will be allowed to bring 20kg of luggage with them and reminds them of a behavioural code of conduct they have signed.
Byers said she had asked departmental officials when or whether her clients would be returned to Villawood, but was told that was an “operational matter”.
A spokeswoman for the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said: “The Villawood Immigration Detention Centre will be undergoing refurbishment works from May 2014.
“For building work to happen, some detainees will need to be moved out of the Villawood centre. Detainees will be transferred to other detention facilities in Australia to enable the refurbishment works to be completed.
“Facilities across the detention network are designed to be flexible and adaptive to changes in configurations of detainees.
She said the transfers would start this month and there would be no change in the level of services detainees received.
They would be able to communicate with legal representatives and courts "as required".
“Decisions on whether people are returned to Villawood will be made at a future point,” she said.
Byers said she feared the decision to transfer the 83 asylum seekers, including Sri Lankans, Afghans and Iranians involved in the court action, might be an attempt to punish them for lodging the court action or the start of an attempt to deport them.
Villawood detention centre has been undergoing a redevelopment project, parts of which are due for completion this month.
John Sweeney of the Edmund Rice Centre, an advocacy group involved in the court actions, said it was “strange” the department had not moved the 83 asylum seekers into new accommodation following the redevelopment.
“Why couldn’t they just move them over the road to the new renovations rather than spending $500 to move each of them to the middle of the desert where there is no telephone communication?” Sweeney said, adding that a number of the asylum seekers due for transfer had serious mental health issues.
Lawyers are hoping to file an injunction with the federal circuit court on Wednesday to prevent the transfer.
At the first directions hearing in Sydney last month, counsel for the immigration minister said there was “no intention” to remove any of the asylum seekers among the first 16 cases being heard that day, with a letter sent to all asylum seekers affected by the breach assuring them the department was examining its impact on a “case by case” basis.
On Monday the immigration minister announced that all legal aid to asylum seekers in Australia would be abolished.
In February Guardian Australia revealed that almost 10,000 people detained in immigration detention and community detention had their personal details, including full names, dates of birth, nationalities and places of detention, published by the Immigration Department.