Tamil refugees face indefinite detention on Christmas Island

January 16, 2010

Five Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, held at Christmas Island, face indefinite imprisonment without trial after Australia's secret police agency, ASIO, deemed them "security risks".

The four men and one woman have all been found to be genuine refugees by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. There are at least two children attached to the group.

"They do not qualify for visas to enter Australia and they won't be entering Australia", immigration minister Chris Evans said on January 12.. They'll be detained on Christmas Island."

ASIO has given no reason for branding the refugees as "security risks" — under Australian law it does not have to.

Human rights lawyer David Manne told the ABC's PM program on January 13: "As things stand, when ASIO makes a so-called adverse assessment against someone, the person doesn't actually know what the case is against them, let alone is there any process by which they can challenge any concerns.

"There's no proper process, no independent process about how those concerns should be managed."

Former immigration official Frederika Steen told the January 15 Sydney Morning Herald that ASIO security checks were unreliable and open to political interference.

It is not known whether ASIO made its assessment in this instance on the basis of information from Sri Lankan security agencies. The Sri Lankan state has been accused of genocide against the Tamil minority.

Opposition immigration spokesperson Michael Keenan has used the case to accuse the government of "a grievous security breach". The Coalition has consistently attacked the government for not abusing refugees' human rights enough.

The future for the five looks bleak. The government has said that they will be detained at Christmas Island until another country agrees to resettle them — something unlikely to happen while they are classified as "security risks".

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