Australia slammed for locking up refugees on secret ASIO advice

11-07-2018 by admin

A former Tamil refugee ‘Ragav’, released in 2015 after more than five years in immigration detention after ASIO revised its assessment issuing him a visas poses a security threat. Photo: Josh Robenstone Broadmeadows detention centre is the indefinite home for some refugees. Photo: Joe Armao
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The headquarters for ASIO in Canberra. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

A protest flag is displayed at Villawood detention centre in 2010. Photo: Simon Alekna

Former prime minister Tony Abbott with Attorney-General Senator George Brandis and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop in February 2015. Photo: Andrew Meares

The United Nations has savaged Australia’s policy of locking away refugees for years without charge or trial on the basis of secret intelligence assessments.

An international legal panel at the UN has demanded compensation over “serious psychological harm” done to five men incarcerated for five years – only to be suddenly released into the community in recent months after the secret security finding was reversed.

The UN finding again throws a spotlight on what the legal panel slammed as Australia’s “arbitrary” practice of indefinite detention for any refugee the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation initially deems a risk to national security.

At its height more than 50 refugees were held for years after 2009 inside Australia’s immigration detention network on security grounds.

They have predominantly been held in the Broadmeadows facility in Melbourne’s north, and Villawood detention centre in Sydney.

Yet all but 10 of the affected refugees have since been quietly released during the past 18 months after ASIO subsequently revised its adverse assessment.

One refugee Ragav, (not his real name) who was released last year after more than 1800 days in detention without knowing why, told Fairfax Media of how his mind dulled with the ordeal.

The latest ruling is the third time the UN has specifically criticised indefinite detention in Australia, but successive governments have refused to change the practice.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott last year dismissed criticism of Australia’s refugee policy, declaring he was “sick of being lectured to by the United Nations”.

The High Court has also upheld the use of indefinite detention.

The five men – three Sri Lankan Tamils, an Iranian and Afghan – arrived by boat in 2009 and 2010, and were each judged to qualify as refugees with a well-founded fear of persecution.

But they were later told that a routine security check by ASIO before a visa was issued had raised concerns, but not the reasons why.

Refugees, unlike citizens, permanent residents or other visa holders, are not allowed to appeal an ASIO decision.

The secret ruling left them trapped in what has previously been described as a “legal black hole” of indefinite detention – not able to return to their home, not permitted release into the community, and with  no other country willing to settle them.

“The Immigration department treats these ASIO assessments as a licence to detain, even though ASIO doesn’t make that recommendation,” said international law specialist Ben Saul.

“But after executions and torture, indefinite detention is the worst thing you can do to a person under international human rights law.”

Professor Saul, Challis Chair of International Law at the University of Sydney, appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee, a panel of of legal experts, arguing the secret basis for the security assessment made it impossible to evaluate the justification for detention.

The UN legal panel ruled indefinite detention was not justified and Australian authorities had failed to demonstrate why other measures, such as mandatory reporting or monitoring, could not have satisfied security concerns.

Professor Saul said it was appalling that the senior leadership in the government – Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and Attorney General George Brandis – were each lawyers but allowed indefinite detention to continue.

ASIO has previously said it constantly reviews and updates assessments based on the security environment.

The five men have all been subsequently released after ASIO revised its assessment, the last in December.

But the UN found that the men’s protracted detention and the government’s refusal to provide information or appeal “cumulatively inflicted serious psychological harm”.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has repeatedly warned of serious risks to mental and physical health from indefinite detention – with reports showing at least one-in-four of the refugees with adverse assessments had attempted or threatened suicide.

Australia has sought to win agreement from other countries to settle the refugees with adverse assessments, without success.

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