This speech was given at the Refugee Action Collective protest in Melbourne on April 8.
* * *
We are here to protest against the indefinite detention of a group of refugees who are claimed by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to be a security threat.
These are people who have been officially recognised as refugees who were at serious risk of persecution in the countries they fled. Yet they are detained indefinitely because of negative ASIO assessments.
They have not seen the evidence that supposedly justifies the claim of being a security threat or told the reasons for these assessments. They are not allowed to challenge the assessment.
Retired judge Margaret Stone, who reviewed these cases, 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.
At one stage there were 52 people detained indefinitely on the basis of ASIO assessments. Some have been released, either because of Stone’s review or because ASIO changed its mind. They were released without any explanation of why their security assessment was changed. But they are still denied permanent protection and any possibility of family reunion.
Stone’s review, although it led to some people being released, was deeply flawed. She did not challenge the political assumptions underlying ASIO’s security assessments.
Most of those detained on the basis of negative ASIO assessments are Tamils from Sri Lanka. While they were never given a reason for their detention, it seems that they are considered a security risk because of their alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE fought for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka. They were defeated in May 2009.
There are several problems with ASIO’s reasoning.
First, the LTTE no longer exists. Why detain people for having belonged to, or supported, an organisation that no longer exists?
Second, these detainees are being kept in captivity simply because of their ideas. ASIO apparently believes the detainees continue to support the ideas of the LTTE. But should people be locked up just because of their ideas?
Third, the goal of the LTTE — an independent Tamil homeland — was supported by many, perhaps most, Tamils, both in Sri Lanka and in exile. Many continue to support this goal, and pursue it by peaceful means.
If the detainees are considered a threat just because they support an independent Tamil homeland, then many, perhaps most, Tamils living in Australia would also be considered a threat.
The LTTE, despite the wide support it enjoyed among Tamils living in Australia, never carried out any terrorist attacks in Australia. The LTTE was never at any stage a threat to the people of Australia.
Finally, ASIO, while seeming to consider links to the LTTE as evidence of terrorism, fails to recognise that those who joined the LTTE were responding to discrimination and violent repression by the Sri Lankan government — state terrorism. But ASIO is not concerned about state terrorism if the state that carries it out is considered an ally.
ASIO appears to consider a threat to an ally of Australia — such as Sri Lanka — is equivalent to a threat to Australia.
By this reasoning, support for a range of other national liberation movements would also constitute a threat to Australia’s security. The West Papuan independence movement is regarded as a threat by the Indonesian government, which is an ally of the Australian government. Are supporters of West Papua also considered a security threat by ASIO?
The Tamils are not the only people who are detained on the basis of ASIO assessments. Some Rohingyas from Burma, who have fled racial discrimination and racist violence, are also considered a security threat.
Nobody should be locked up indefinitely on the basis of secret assessments, where they don’t even know what they are accused of, let alone being able to challenge the supposed evidence against them.
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.
[Chris Slee is a member of Socialist Alliance.]