A Sri Lankan deported by Australia even though his partner had refugee status there was charged upon his return with illegally leaving his home country.
Thileepan Gnaneswaran, who was separated from his wife and 11-month-old daughter, arrived in Colombo Tuesday along with another 17 who had also their asylum applications rejected by Australia.
“They were taken before a magistrate and released on personal bail,” a senior police official told AFP.
“They were charged under the immigration law for leaving the country from a place other than an approved port.”
Sri Lankans are known to travel illegally by boat to Australia and other countries, in violation of immigration laws.
The offence carries a fine of 200,000 rupees ($1,250) and a maximum prison term of five years.
In practice, people are seldom jailed.
The UN refugee agency earlier voiced alarm at Australia’s decision to “actively and indefinitely separate” 30-year-old Gnaneswaran from his family.
His deportation “contravenes the basic right of family unity, as well as the fundamental principle of the best interests of the child”, the UNHCR said in a Tuesday statement.
The UN has long criticised Australia’s policy of “offshore processing and deterrence”. Since 2013 asylum-seekers who have reached the country by boat are shipped off to remote camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea for processing.
They are barred from resettling in Australia even if subsequently granted refugee status.
The policy has led to numerous separations of refugee families, since those who arrive to Australia by sea have been prevented from reuniting with their loved ones in the country, the UNHCR said Tuesday.
Sri Lankans have attempted to illegally enter Australia by boat and in recent years almost all have been stopped and returned back.
In May, a group of 131 Sri Lankans were stopped by Malaysian authorities as they tried to head towards New Zealand by boat.
Official figures show that Australia has stopped 32 people-smuggling boats since 2013 and sent back some 800 people to their country of origin.
Australian media reports said that Gnaneswaran, a member of Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil community, was tortured by security forces because of his family’s alleged connections to the now-defunct Tamil Tiger rebels.
Police said Gnaneswaran was told to appear in court on September 28 for a preliminary hearing.