Red News Readers,
Pamela Curr makes some very valid points about ASIO assessments of refugees. How do we know that ASIO did not give these persons an adverse assessment because they were involved or organised the protest on the Oceanic Viking? I am very uneasy at ASIO being able to make these assessments with no accountability.
ASIO's assessments can destroy lives
PAMELA CURR, SMH
January 12, 2010 Comments 39
Four asylum seekers from the Oceanic Viking face more uncertainty after an adverse assessment from ASIO, which cannot be examined. Photo: Yuli Seperi
The finding that four people from the Oceanic Viking have received an adverse security assessment from ASIO may gird the loins of the anti-asylum seeker sector in Australia. However, in the absence of ASIO providing reasons as to why they have made such assessments, it is worth looking at previous decisions in similar circumstances. The consequences of these decisions are so serious and so deleterious to the individuals involved that a clear-eyed review of the efficacy of past ASIO indictments is called for in the interests of justice.
ASIO and the Government have vigorously defended their right to secrecy in these matters through the courts. It is also worth noting that adverse ASIO assessments are rare occurrences. In 2007-2008 out of 89,290 assessments there were no adverse findings while in 2006-2007, there were seven adverse assessments including that of US activist Scott Parkin and a Guantanamo Bay filmmaker. We also note that ASIO got a clean bill of health for their activities during the Doctor Mohamed Haneef case.
In 2005 two Iraqi asylum seekers were granted refugee status after being interdicted and taken to Nauru in 2001. These two men then languished on Nauru until one man became suicidal. Such was the concern as to his condition that he was flown to Brisbane to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. I visited him in this no-security establishment where most patients were middle-class sufferers of depression and anorexia. Mohammad could easily have escaped if he wished or if he indeed was a "national security threat" as designated by ASIO. It was clear to even the most suspicious that he was no threat so quietly without reasons given, his adverse decision was lifted. He was granted a visa and now lives in Australia struggling with the effects of incarceration on Nauru and the treatment he received.
The second man, another Mohammad, held on to his sanity long enough that he remained on Nauru alone while the cards were shuffled to get rid of this embarrassment to our noble immigration and security forces. Eventually he was exported to Sweden where he too struggles with the remnants of a life all but destroyed by the brutal politics of a dark time in Australian history. Needless to say the proof is in the pudding here also in that this Mohammad, like his friend, has not caused a moment's concern to the security agencies of either Sweden or Australia.
So how does ASIO make these assessments? This is a no-go area clouded in secrecy but we do know that by their own admissions in more honest days they have corroborated with overseas agencies who have provided dubious information. In one instance a man spent two years locked up on evidence that had more to do with payback than justice.
I sat through an ASIO interview with a man released from Nauru after four years incarceration. This was his second interview and the reasons for it were never disclosed. He was summonsed to the Immigration Department in Melbourne as were many post Nauru Iraqis on a supposedly immigration matter. There we were shuffled off to a side room where he was asked all over again about the torture and imprisonment he had endured in Iraq before fleeing to Australia. What astonished me was that ASIO and Immigration knew as early as 2002 that this man had been comprehensively tortured by Saddam Hussein's men. They had corroborated evidence of the hanging upside down on huge fans for hours each day, of the hanging by arms turned backwards, which dislodges the shoulders causing exquisite pain. Yet they still held this man and many others on Nauru for years despite their own guidelines that tortured persons would not be detained longer than necessary.
ASIO have been complicit in the Australian Government's asylum seeker deterrence policy in the past so why would they not continue this co-operation when the Sri Lankan embassy has been so shrill in its claims that all Tamils coming to Australia are either Tamil Tiger terrorists or potential terrorists. Where, if not from the Sri Lankan embassy, are ASIO getting their information?
Australia has funded the security cameras in Colombo airport to detect any potential Tamil asylum seekers from leaving while simultaneously funding the Sri Lankan Navy to prevent people escaping by boat. Indeed in December the Sri Lankan Navy took their responsibility to deter so seriously that they shot two asylum seekers, killing one as he struggled into a fishing boat.
That ASIO has produced adverse security assessments against three men, one woman and her two children is not to be unexpected. Whether these assessments are valid or accurate is unlikely to be tested.
Pamela Curr is campaign co-ordinator at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.