The Australian government has decided to provide over A$27 million in compensation to over 120 Indonesians. These individuals claim that Australia incorrectly imprisoned them as adults, although they were actually children.
When they were detained, some of these children were only 12 years old and in some instances, they were also prosecuted for being involved in people smuggling.
The majority of the individuals participating in the collective legal action were held on Christmas Island or in Darwin from 2009 to 2012. They had arrived in Australia on boats involved in people smuggling. These individuals assert that they were enticed onto these boats as children with promises of well-paying jobs, not knowing where they were headed or that they would be involved in transporting asylum seekers.
According to Australian law at that time, any crew members discovered to be children on those boats should have been sent back to their home countries instead of facing legal charges. However, authorities relied on a subsequently discredited method of wrist X-ray analysis to assess the ages of these children and imprisoned anyone they believed to be older than 18.
The government received a direct warning in June 2010 while many prosecutions were still in progress regarding the reliability of the technique. An immigration department briefing referred to UK guidelines cautioning that wrist X-rays were susceptible to errors.
The involved parties have reached a settlement agreement of $27.5 million, in addition to legal expenses, on Wednesday. They are currently seeking approval for this settlement from the federal court. The court will provide an opportunity for any objections to the settlement before a follow-up hearing scheduled for December.
The main plaintiff, Ali Yasmin, was transported to Christmas Island in December 2009, despite informing immigration authorities that he was 14 years old. He faced prosecution and was incarcerated as an adult in a maximum-security prison until his release in 2012, after which he was deported to Indonesia. His conviction was the first to be overturned in 2017, and subsequently, six more boys had their convictions overturned in 2022, as reported by The Guardian.
Yasmin asserted that 97 days of his detention were illegal because authorities treated adults and children in a similar manner, violating the Migration Act’s mandate that detention should only be used as a last resort for minors. Additionally, he alleged that he was subjected to assault in Hakea prison in 2010 during his remand.
Yasmin also claimed breaches of the Racial Discrimination Act and negligence in the care of detained individuals, citing the findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2012 Age of Uncertainty report.
The lawyers representing the plaintiffs will dedicate the next year to identifying more Indonesians who might qualify for compensation.