Rights and liberty of refugees should not hinge on secretive and non-reviewable ASIO assessments, Parliamentary Committee told

The rights and liberty of refugees shouldn’t hinge on secretive and non-reviewable ASIO assessments, the Human Rights Law Centre told the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee.

The Committee is conducting an inquiry into proposed amendments to the Migration Act which would make eligibility for Australia’s protection dependent on obtaining a favourable security assessment from ASIO.

Giving evidence to the inquiry, the HRLC’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said that the proposed reforms place ASIO assessments at the centre of refugee processing but contain no safeguards to ensure the security assessment process is fair or accountable.

“Already in Australia refugees are denied protection and locked up indefinitely on the basis of secretive ASIO decisions they can’t challenge and which are never properly explained to them. Instead of addressing this fundamental injustice, the proposed changes just further entrench it in legislation” said Mr Webb.

To highlight the serious human rights violations such a system can produce, the HRLC raised the case of a Sri Lankan man and his family who were detained for four years on the basis of an ASIO assessment that was subsequently reversed.

The man, a chicken farmer from the north of Sri Lanka, arrived in Australia in July 2009 after he and his family escaped the conflict in which both his father and brother were killed. They were quickly found to be refugees in need of protection, yet the family – including the man, his wife and their three young children – languished in detention for four years.

Suddenly, on the eve of a High Court case testing the lawfulness of their treatment, ASIO revoked its negative assessment after a recommendation from the Independent Reviewer and the family was released.

“An entire family spent four years locked up on the basis of an ASIO decision that was subsequently reversed. If they had a right to appeal, perhaps they would have been released four years sooner and three young children wouldn’t have spent their childhoods in immigration detention,” said Mr Webb.

“Citizens and permanent residents have the right to appeal ASIO assessments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Refugees don’t. For them the stakes are higher yet their rights are fewer. It’s a clear inequality before the law that’s without justification. Refugees should be given the same right as everyone else to appeal their ASIO assessments” said Mr Webb.

A copy of the HRLC’s written submission can be found here.

For further details or comments, please contact Daniel Webb on 0437 278 961