Born into detention: the plight of Paari and ASIO negative refugees

Paari was only three days old when he spent his first night behind the steel fences at Villawood detention center in January. Paari’s mother, Ranjini, his two older brothers, and more than 50 other refugees, are condemned to a life of indefinite detention because of an adverse security assessment from ASIO, Australia’s spy agency.

There is no sign that the new Immigration Minister, Brendan O’Connor, will consider releasing the ASIO negative refugees, despite having the power to do so.

ASIO negative refugees remain in a Kafka-esque situation: found to refugees and in need of protection, they are condemned to life sentences without charges, without a court hearing, without being told the reasons, and with the ASIO decision made entirely in secret.

This is despite a High Court decision in October last year that ruled that refugees could not be denied a protection visa on the basis of an adverse ASIO assessment. But the Immigration Minister is able to deny protection visas on character and other grounds, so the government has been able to effectively duck the judgement.

Instead Labor initiated a limited review process, where ASIO negative refugees could have their ASIO assessment reviewed by a retired juge. The judge, Margaret Stone, can also only make a recommendation—the final security decision still rests with ASIO. While the review is slightly better than nothing, it is far less than the rights of Australian citizens who can appeal an ASIO decision.

Needless to say, there are massive question marks over ASIO’s findings and the basis of its assessments. Most ASIO negative refugees are Tamils, although the Tamil Tigers are not a proscribed terrorist organisation. ASIO is a law unto itself.

Now, there are concerns the whole process won’t be finalised before the federal election on September 14. The Coalition have announced that if they win, they will give ASIO more power and abolish the review process completely.

Some of the ASIO negative refugees have already been in detention more than four years. This only makes the fight to release the ASIO negative refugees even more urgent.

Amy Thomas

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