Free the refugees rejected by ASIO

October 24, 2013
Tamil refugee Ranjini, with son Paari, has been detained for life without charge.

Last month, the High Court heard a case brought by lawyers for Ranjini, a Tamil woman who was accepted as a refugee but is being held in indefinite detention because ASIO considers her a security threat.

Ranjini is one of 47 people in this situation. They face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in detention because ASIO claims that they are “likely to engage in acts prejudicial to Australia’s security”.

Ranjini’s lawyers said detaining people for life without charge, trial or conviction for any crime is illegal. The High Court has reserved its decision.

Ranjini arrived in Australia by boat in 2010. She was recognised as a refugee, who was “at risk of continued violence” if she was sent back to Sri Lanka. She was released in 2011, and lived in the community with her husband and two children for a year.

She was suddenly taken back into detention in April last year. Soon after this she discovered she was pregnant, and now has a third child, a boy named Paari.

ASIO claims that Ranjini is a threat to Australia’s security. The details of the secret ASIO assessment have not been disclosed, but from the limited information which has been published, it seems that she was considered a security risk because she was formerly a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and has not renounced her views. ASIO claims she “remains strongly ideologically supportive” of the LTTE.

There are several problems with ASIO’s reasoning.

First, what does it mean to be “ideologically supportive” of an organisation that no longer exists? The LTTE, which had fought for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka, lost the war in May 2009 and was crushed.

It may just mean that she supports the LTTE’s goal of creating an independent Tamil state – a goal shared by many, probably most, Tamils, some of who are continuing to pursue it by peaceful means. But this is speculation — we don’t know what ASIO means.

Second, it seems clear that she is regarded as a security risk because of her political opinions, not because there is any evidence that she has committed any crime.

The LTTE did carry out some acts of terrorism during the war, which lasted nearly three decades. But there is no evidence that Ranjini took part in any such actions. ASIO documents presented to the court claimed she trained “child soldiers”, but Ranjini insists she was only 11 years old herself at the time.

Third, it seems that she is regarded as dangerous because she was formerly a member of an armed group, the Tamil Tigers. But there is no consideration of the racism, oppression and state terrorism that Tamils suffered at the hands of the Sri Lankan government, and which drove many young Tamils such as Ranjini to join the LTTE as a way of fighting back.

Last, the LTTE never carried out any violent actions in Australia – so there was never any good reason to consider it a threat to Australia’s security.

It seems that ASIO considers a threat to an ally of Australia – such as Sri Lanka – is equivalent to a threat to Australia.

By this reasoning, support for the West Papuan independence movement, or for various Palestinian organisations, would also constitute a threat to Australia’s security.

Five people in the same situation as Ranjini were released after their cases were reviewed. Retired judge Margaret Stone was appointed by the former Labor government to review such cases, and some were freed either because of the Stone review or because ASIO changed its assessment.

However, the Stone review was deeply flawed, because Stone seems to have basically accepted ASIO’s view of the world – for example, the view that support for Tamil independence is a threat to Australia’s security.

She gave the refugees only very brief summaries of the reasons for adverse assessments. Refugees had no right to know the supposed evidence against them, let alone challenge the criteria for deciding that they were a security threat.

Stone acknowledged that some of the “evidence” ASIO used as the basis for its assessments would not meet the standard of proof required in a court hearing. She said that the process was “not guesswork in the terms of tossing a coin, but it is a prediction”.

Stone’s recommendations were non-binding. ASIO could ignore them if it chose to do so.

But the Liberal government has said that even this flawed review process will be abolished. There will be no review of ASIO decisions at all.

We should demand an end to the detention of refugees on the basis of ASIO assessments. Those currently detained should be freed, and there should be no more such detentions.


During the editing process, the following sentence was added to my article: “ASIO documents presented to the court claimed she trained ‘child soldiers’, but Ranjini insists she was only 11 years old herself at the time”. This sentence is confusing. ASIO claims that Ranjini spent 17 years with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, beginning at the age of eleven. Ranjini reportedly did not hide her membership of the LTTE. But in regard to the accusation of training child soldiers, she reportedly said the she only trained girls the same age as herself. This would probably not have been at the age of eleven, but at some later time. According to the September 6 Melbourne Age: “Ranjini has since insisted that after running away from home to join the Tigers as an 11-year-old she only led girls the same age as her”. I am not sure what the Age article means when it says she ran away to “join the Tigers” as an eleven year old girl. It may just mean she left a government-controlled area and went to an area controlled by the LTTE. It seems that she did not immediately join the armed struggle, because the same article says she finished school in 1997, when she would have been 17 or 18, and actually fought against the Sri Lankan army in the late 1990s. Chris Slee

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