* Thousands of asylum seekers have their private information
* Lawyer says they may be granted refugee status as a result
* Government is launching an investigation into the leaks
By Matt Siegel
SYDNEY, Feb 19 Australia has inadvertently made
public the identities of almost 10,000 asylum seekers, the
department of immigration said on Wednesday, raising concerns it
could help locate people fleeing persecution and thus place them
in greater danger.
A file published on a government website by mistake held the
names, nationalities and locations of nearly a third of all
people held in Australia's immigration detention network. It is
unclear how long the information was available to the public.
The lapse was first reported by The Guardian Australia
website, which informed the government of the breach, leading it
to block access to the information.
"This is an unacceptable incident," Immigration Minister
Scott Morrison said in a statement.
"This is a serious breach of privacy by the Department of
Immigration and Border Protection."
The incident comes as Prime Minister Tony Abbott's tough
stance on asylum seekers has been receiving fresh scrutiny after
a series of events, including violent riots, involving its
policy of transferring asylum seekers to third countries.
Australia uses detention centres in Papua New Guinea and on
the tiny Pacific island of Nauru to process would-be refugees
sent there after trying to get to Australia, often in unsafe
boats after paying people smugglers in Indonesia.
Morrison said audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG LLC would
conduct an investigation into the leak. Australia's privacy
commissioner announced a separate inquiry.
Regardless of the outcome, a prominent human rights lawyer
said the leaks could mean that people previously deemed
ineligible for asylum would receive it as a result of being put
at risk by having had their identity made public.
"It's a fundamental principle of refugee law that a person
seeking asylum should be free to make their claim free of
disclosure of their identity to the authorities in their home
country," David Manne, executive director of the Refugee and
Immigration Legal Centre, told The Age newspaper in Melbourne.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees raised fresh
questions overnight about the policies of Abbott's conservative
government, which have drawn fire over the conditions in the
camps and the lack of clarity surrounding processing.
"We have a number of concerns, as to whether the legal and
practical framework in Papua New Guinea in relation to refugee
status determination, reception conditions and settlement are
sufficiently developed to handle these arrangements envisioned
under the agreement Australia has with Papua New Guinea,"
spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva.
An asylum seeker was killed and at least 77 injured on
Monday in the second riot this week at the Papua New Guinea
facility on Manus island, leading to calls from critics for its
Britain's G4S, the world's biggest security group,
is responsible for providing security at the Manus Island
Australia's arrangement with tiny Nauru has also come under
fire in recent weeks following a series of moves by the
government there that critics call authoritarian and
Sarah Hanson-Young of the small but influential Greens Party
called the data breach, one of the largest in recent memory in
Australia, an example of the government's "failure to care for
vulnerable people who are fleeing for their lives".