Government releases refugee family from indefinite detention days before High Court challenge

The Government has dodged a High Court challenge to its indefinite detention of people who have been proven to be genuine refugees by releasing a Sri Lankan man and his family who had been detained for four years.

Despite having been found to be a genuine refugee in September 2009, Rahavan Yogachchandran, his wife and their three children had been detained on the basis that he and his wife were assessed as a security risk by ASIO. They were not given specific reasons for ASIO’s decision and were denied any legal avenue to challenge it.

“It was terrible spending so long in detention. One of my children was born in detention. My children would always ask me why we were detained. They were so confused and didn’t understand. There was nothing I could tell them,” Mr Yogachchandran said.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Senior Lawyer, Daniel Webb, said Mr Yogachchandran’s case may have had significant implications for other refugees in the legal limbo of being indefinitely detained on the basis of ASIO assessments.

“Rahavan and his family spent four long years locked up. Then, days before the highest court in the land was to consider the fairness and lawfulness of our Government’s treatment of Rahavan, he’s suddenly released. That’s great news for our client, but it shouldn’t take the threat of a High Court case for fundamental human rights to be respected,” said Mr Webb.

Mr Yogachchandran said that whilst being very happy, he was puzzled about the timing of his release.

“We have spent four years in detention and then all of sudden we’re told we are not a risk. I am really happy to be out of detention but it’s hard to enjoy because we have suffered so much. These four years have been a sad part of my life and we can’t get them back. The whole time I could not see any future for myself or my family,” said Mr Yogachchandran.

Rahavan’s release is the first time that the new independent review process, conducted by former Federal Court judge Margaret Stone, has led to the withdrawal of a negative security assessment. This review process can only make recommendations and does not legally bind ASIO or the Government.

Mr Webb said he hoped the withdrawal of Rahavan’s negative assessment showed that the process was being taken seriously, but warned that it was no substitute for proper and legally enforceable review.

“There’s no other context in Australian law where a person can be locked up indefinitely without a detailed explanation as to why and without having the right to a legally binding review of the decision. This has to change,” said Mr Webb.

Mr Yogachchandran, a farmer from the north of Sri Lanka, arrived in Australia in July 2009 after he and his family escaped the conflict in which his father and brother were killed. The family had been in detention ever since their arrival.

“I’m looking forward to finding a place to settle in. I want my children to get a proper education. Nobody knows what the future holds, but if things go well I want to do some farming. I am a positive and friendly person and I’m looking forward to being a part of the Australian community,” said Rahavan.


For further information or comments contact:
Daniel Webb, HRLC Senior Lawyer, on 0437 278 961 or