On 18 December 2008, three Sri Lankans escaped from the Christmas Island detention facility to avoid being put on a plane that was booked for the following day to take them back to Sri Lanka. While, it’s not a crime to arrive in Australia without a visa and seek asylum, it is a crime to escape from mandatory immigration detention. Each of the three pleaded guilty to escaping and were sentenced to three months imprisonment, principally because the Magistrate was keen to deter others from escaping.
On the sentencing appeal (Warnakulasuriya -v- The Queen  WASC 257), Hall J was obviously more sympathetic to them. He ordered their immediate release (from prison that is) and imposed a $100 bond to be of good behaviour for 12 months. Paragraph  of his judgment is instructive:
“This appears to be conduct that was unplanned. The fact that the appellants surrendered themselves readily when located and were hungry and thirsty [the magistrate described it as “hanging around in the jungle”] attests to the lack of planning. They appear to have had no thought as to what they would do after escaping other than to try to locate a church where they would take sanctuary. There was no prospect of them escaping into the broader Australian community given the location of the detention centre on Christmas Island [the closest point on the mainland is Exmouth which is 1500km away]. There was no property damage caused, nor was any officer or member of the public threatened or assaulted. The appellants were at liberty for a very short period of time and did not travel far. They were easily apprehended and cooperated with the police….Each of the appellants acted out of fear that they may be killed if they were returned to Sri Lanka.”
Begs the question: why do we spend a large amounts of public money on security on Christmas Island? I am also reminded of the words of the second verse of Advance Australia Fair: “….For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share….”
Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.