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I just read an article containing this sentence:

These criteria may be satisfied if the applicant is found to be a person in respect of whom Australia has protection obligations because they are unable or unwilling to return to their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution.

I don't understand what the phrase "in respect of" is doing here when you can just say "a person whom Australia has protection obligations […]".

Is it grammatically correct if I don't include that phrase?

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No. "...a person whom Australia has protection obligations" is not correct in this sentence. You can't say "Australia has protection obligations a person". You need a preposition.

I'd also note that this is legal language, and the odd sounding "in respect of whom" (vs. the simpler "for whom") may relate to use of that particular prepositional phrase somewhere else.

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