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Australia sued over Indonesian minors in adult jails

[JAKARTA] Australia is being sued for US$80 million in Jakarta over claims it held juvenile Indonesian people-smuggling suspects in adult prisons or for long periods in immigration detention, a lawyer said Friday.

The class-action lawsuit was launched Thursday at a court in the capital on behalf of 115 Indonesians allegedly detained when they were minors, said the lawyer representing them, Lisa Hiariej.

They were either held in immigration detention centres for longer than three months, or in adult jails, both situations that break Australian laws, said Ms Hiariej.

The minors were detained when they arrived in Australia on people-smuggling boats between 2008 and 2012. The vessels were typically crewed by Indonesians and carried migrants from countries including Afghanistan and Iran.

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"They had violated the law because they came to Australia illegally, but because they were minors they should not have been jailed in adult prisons or detained for more than three months," she told AFP.

Those arrested were not tried in court but held in jail or immigration detention and later sent back to Indonesia. The claimants are seeking A$103 million (US$112.022 million) in compensation, said the lawyer.

The Australian embassy in Jakarta did not immediately have any comment.

Indonesia was long a key transit country on people-smuggling routes, with migrants arriving in the archipelago before boarding wooden fishing boats and crossing illegally to Australia.

Christmas Island, an Australian territory just several hundred kilometres south of Indonesia's Java island, was the usual arrival point.

The flow of migrants has stopped since Australia introduced hardline policies that include turning migrant boats back to Indonesia when it is safe to do so, a measure that has riled Jakarta.

In the cases of the detained juveniles, Australian authorities incorrectly determined they were 18 or over using wrist X-rays - a method which has been criticised as unreliable, said Ms Hiariej.

Ms Hiariej said she and other lawyers later determined from the teenagers' birth certificates that they were minors at the time of their detention.

The case is scheduled to resume in May.

AFP

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