‘ASIO checks destroy refugee lives’ on Socialist Alternative

Today on Socialist Alternative, my article ‘ASIO checks destroy refugee lives’ appears:

At 1am on 14 May, I received a text message informing me that another refugee had attempted suicide inside Broadmeadows detention centre. It was the third attempt this month; another stark reminder of the effect mandatory detention has on refugees.

Jasee, a Tamil refugee, tried to hang himself after viewing a Mother’s Day special on TV. It had reminded him of his mum, who died during the civil war in Sri Lanka. He was 13 at the time.

One of the asylum seekers from the Oceanic Viking in 2009, he remains in detention today even though he has been recognised as a refugee by the Department of Immigration. Like more than 55 other refugees, negative ASIO security checks condemn him to a life of indefinite detention. He is stuck in legal limbo. His refugee status and legitimate fear of torture or death if returned to Sri Lanka mean he cannot be deported. Yet the Immigration Department refuses to release refugees that have been condemned by ASIO’s secretive process of security checks and “character assessments”.

Continue reading…

On Friday, the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) – which I’m apart of – will be holding an action outside the Department of Immigration demanding an end to indefinite detention and an end to ASIO security checks. See Facebook for more details.

9 thoughts on “‘ASIO checks destroy refugee lives’ on Socialist Alternative

  1. Whilst no expert on such matters, Benjamin, one would have to assume that some sort of security screening process is applied to all immigrants whether they be humanitarian arrivals or otherwise. Being a refugee does not preclude the possibility of also being found to fail the same security screening that would assumedly apply to all new immigrants, does it?

    In addition, the idea of a \’right to appeal\’ of such screenings would raise some practical issues for the Australian intelligence apparatus in regards to the safety of sources and the such.

  2. The ASIO security checks aren’t mandatory, but ordered by the Dept. of immigration for refugees who arrive by boat. If there’s not enough data to do a security check, a “character assessment” is done instead, which is even more unjust.

    Most of the sources are probably governments that the refugees are fleeing from i.e. the Australian government has a strong relationship with the Sri Lankan government, guilty of war crimes and genocide, massacring Tamils on mass. It’s not surprising that the government would lie to protect themselves. Under Howard, immigration was found to let Chinese officials into detention to interrogate Chinese asylum seekers fleeing the Chinese regime. Undoubtedly, the Chinese officials got the names and identities of these people to go back and kill their families still in China.

    And frankly, the safety of a mother and her two kids is more important than these supposed sources. Don’t they have a right to know why they’re being locked up indefinitely? But I supposed repeated attempted suicides, a guy trying to wrap an electrical cable around his neck isn’t enough to move you to empathy.

  3. I would imagine the Department of Immigration has some responsibility to ensure the suitability of all migrants whether their arrival be humanitarian in nature or otherwise. If there is insufficient documentation forthcoming to carry out such checks, perhaps it may be the case that clandestine avenues are the only means available for the department to fulfil this duty.

    I would assume that the security apparatus does indeed receive information from regimes we would both declare as odious. However, our own authorities in this case are asked to make a judgement on the suitability of the immigrant not the nature of said regimes. The veracity of the information they provide would assumedly factor into any final decision.

    In addition, the world is not black and white, as any study of the modus operandi of the Tamil Tigers will tell you. That a regime like the Sri Lankan government is objectionable does mean those fleeing from it are any better, Benjamin.

    As for your speculation on what piques my empathy, such examples as you highlight is indeed distressing on a personal level.

  4. So if your family is being massacred, it doesn’t mean they should flee or indeed defend themselves? ASIO are not interested in our safety. They’re the only group that’s committed a bombing in Australia. They let George Bush into Australia, who killed millions, yet lock up a woman and her two kids, which to most ordinary people seems totally incomprehensible and insane, yet you want to talk about it as if it’s a sensible process and fair.

    Those regimes cannot be trusted to provide accurate information. That’s the point, I was making. Regimes and government departments aren’t objective. ASIO is not objective. They are political bodies and make decisions in those interests. To think otherwise is simply naive.

    What Immigration want to do is to make out like these people could be a threat, which is simply not true. There has not been one terrorist found on a boat, nor would be the best way to get one here. Terrorists groups would be better sending them on first class planes, not on leaky boats, and they have the money to do so.

  5. Howard: “I would assume that the security apparatus does indeed receive information from regimes we would both declare as odious. However, our own authorities in this case are asked to make a judgement on the suitability of the immigrant not the nature of said regimes. The veracity of the information they provide would assumedly factor into any final decision.”

    Well, actually, the exact opposite is true. Even if we, for the sake of argument, make the presumption that a legitimate moral platform is that where the government bases its behaviours on, it’s not hard to notice that economic welfare will supercede those concerns of the legitimacy of the regime and their intel gathered. In short, because Sri Lanka is such a valuable asset to the Australian economy, which lots of trade and commercial interchange, this means that there is good reason to look the other way when it comes to issues of peripheral concern.

    The Australian government wants to maintain good relations with Columbo, simply because they want to keep these good economic relations, thereby shoving unimportant issues under the rug, keeping the air as clean as possible. If there is some issue that might rock the boat, it’s ignored by Canberra, due to this conflict of interests. It’s therefore reasonable to conclude that: when it comes to security checks, ASIO takes Columbo’s intel with a much higher level of legitimacy than it otherwise would, the officials having been given their marching order by the leadership.

    If Sri Lanka says that these Tamil refugees are security risks, then that’s good enough for Canberra, so they are.

    It’s naive of anyone, you included, to take these institutions of power and authority, like governments and their unelected, unaccountable intelligence agencies, at their own words. We certainly shouldn’t be simply assuming that there is a correctness to their actions out of a blind sympathetic note that we may have to their positions, powers and responsibilities. Deliberately refusing to take onboard all the information at hand is a recipe for becoming an apologist for governments, the latter of whom are institutions that must always be kept accountable to their actions, policies and principles.

  6. Benjamin.

    I’m sure we would all seek to flee or defend ourselves in such circumstances, Benjamin. However, that would not render aspects of our past or present that may be of some concern to the powers-that-be in any country we may choose to migrate to as irrelevant or unimportant. Becoming a refugee does not wash all dubious aspects of one’s self away or transform one into a blameless saint.

    I wasn’t aware George Bush was applying to reside in Australia, so I’m not quite sure where you’re going with that one. Additionally, that ASIO was responsible for the Sydney Hilton bombing of 1978 is but a theory at present and likely to remains so. Though, that the federal government refuses to hold an inquiry into the matter is disconcerting. Alas, we digress.

    That the aforementioned regimes would supply accurate information was not asserted, merely that all such material would be assessed by the authorities.

    I would come back to the point that all potential migrants need to pass some sort of security screening before being accepted into Australia. That would appear only prudent. If there is a lack of documentation, and other information, forthcoming, it presents those who are responsible for such things with a bit of a problem; such that resorting to less-than-transparent means of assessment may be necessary.

    That being said, what is to be done with these 50 or so individuals is something that vexes.



    I can’t speculate on how ASIO goes about its business in relation to this matter, and I suspect neither can you with any great deal of authority. Though I’m sure matters of Realpolitik factor into such decisions and these may conflict with certain ideas of absolute morality.

    It is indeed proper to question our authorities and the powers-that-be. Likewise it is proper to question all things, consider all angles and not jump to simplistic conclusions, or moral grandstanding.

    Unfortunately though, Jessica, every state requires some form of an intelligence apparatus that, by definition, hovers on the edge of accountability. This will forever be a source of much debate.

    Perhaps, Jessica, even your coming workers’ paradise will require some form of Staatsicherheit to keep the counter-revolutionary corruptions of the bourgeois at bay.

  7. The purpse of any intelligence agency is to clandestinly impliment the policies of the government. This has always been true of the Russian intelligence, Israeli intelligence, MI5 and the CIA — so too of ASIO. If at any point there is an enemy of the government that exists and must be put out of business, then these intelligence agencies are there to commit violence, terrorism and assassinations to get the job done. One only need to think of the hundreds of the people from the Civil Rights Movement that the CIA secretly killed during the 1970s to get an insight into the standard mode of operation for these people.

    Intelligence agencies, therefore, are used as secret avenues whereby governments can commit acts that they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to get away with. For institutions that are in the public eye and are democratically accountable, like parliament, there are strict limitations to their actions, which is why politicians spend so much time using language of obfuscate their actual agenda, because they know they cannot be honest about their policies, with the dangerous and watchful public as their audience. By being an undemocratic force, the intelligence agencies should be given so much doubt, so much pessimism and skepticism that it calls into question the entire legitimacy of their existence. In a democracy, things that cannot be held responsible to the broad public shouldn’t exist.

    Government policy is to prevent refugees from gaining a legitimate claim of their status, thereby laying the platform for them to be accepted into the country. Seeing as how, last year, the government lost its court case for the Malaysia deal, and now is running out of options for exactly how it can impliment a policy of deterrence, it has moved to the axiom of secrecy to enact it. Remember that the very act of deterring someone to take advantage of something that is their legal right, which is to prevent someone from making their claim to asylum, is grossly illegal under international law.

    The security checks are merely a convenient route for the government to deny a refugee their legal right into the country where all other avenues have been blocked. The court decisions, the international treaties and the country’s own laws all demand that these people be taken in as refugees — but this is something the government is deeply opposed to, due to its deep hatred of poor people from other countries. Nothing is more repulsive than an Asian or an Arab coming into our beautiful, clean, anglo-Celtic country, dirtying it up with their inferior culture and religion and their utter poverty.

    It is standard practice for anything that would otherwise embarress the government to be denied publication out of this security facade. Whenever declassified documents are to be presented to the public discourse, they are edited heavily, so that the information regarding criminal and corrupt activities by politicians and bureaucrats is kept out of the documentation. We then only become aware of this information’s existence when it is leaked to the media, by where the truth is known to us.

    All the evidence points to the reality that the secrecy claim that governments make is merely a cheap facade whereby they can manuevre in such a way that the truth isn’t made public. Just as with refugees, the government knows of the dangers that are at hand here: if this trick fails, then there’s no telling how many thousands of inferior people will come into our country, turning our wonderful white country into a paradise for the Arab poor. As such, the very notion of even applying any level of legitimacy to ASIO is beyond comprehension, for their track record says otherwise.

  8. Jessica,

    Whilst the idea that these adverse security assessments are being administered to placate foreign governments was at least plausible, Jessica, your assertion that they are all part of a government conspiracy aimed at rejecting refugees in general and keeping out asian or middle-eastern migrants is patently absurd.

    Adverse assessments are given to less than 1% of asylum cases and currently about 50 people (Sydney Morning Herald 9/6/12) are in detention as a result of them. When you consider this small number in comparison to not only the other +99% of asylum cases but the tens of thousands of asian and middle-eastern arrivals that immigrate yearly outside of the humanitarian intake, your claim appears silly.

    I have enjoyed discussing this issue with you, Jessica, and I shan’t impose on any more of your time.

  9. Pingback: DEBATE ABOUT REFUGEES AND SECURITY CHECKS | Permanent Socialism

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