The outcry over ASIO negative refugees, condemned to detention for the rest of their lives, continues to grow. Almost 200 people attended a vigil called by GetUp outside Attorney General Nicola Roxon’s office in Melbourne’s west in May.

Three more asylum seekers were taken back into detention in early June after receiving negative assessments. Almost 60 people have now received the finding from ASIO that they are considered a threat to “national security”. But they cannot know the reasons for the decision or challenge them in court.

The publicity over the re-imprisonment of Ranjini, a Tamil woman with two young boys, has clearly panicked the Immigration Department. After she was moved to Villawood detention centre, new restrictions were imposed on visits to the Residential Housing complex where ASIO negative refugees are held. Fifty people joined a protest outside Villawood against the changes at short notice.

Then, following a story on ABC’s 730 program, Serco guards raided and searched the rooms of ASIO negative refugees. Two Tamil men, who demanded to know the reason for the search, were taken to another building and strip-searched.

The High Court will now hear a challenge to their detention on June 18. The case is being brought on behalf of a refugee who has been in detention three years, led by David Manne and the legal team that successfully challenged the Malaysia Agreement last year.

It both argues that ASIO’s assessment process denies refugees “natural justice” because there is no right to answer the case against them and challenges indefinite detention. The High Court ruled detention of asylum seekers for life legal in the 2004 Al-Kateb case.

Ahmed Al-Kateb was a stateless Palestinian rejected as a refugee by the Australian government. The Immigration Department could not find a country willing to accept his deportation. Lawyers will argue that ASIO negative asylum seekers are different because they have already been granted refugee status.

But even if the case succeeds refugees will still face long periods in detention waiting for ASIO assessments to be completed.

One refugee who arrived as a minor has even received a negative assessment, handed to him just before his 18th birthday. He now suffers from severe depression and has attempted suicide and self-harm on a number of occasions.

Psychiatric notes for another Tamil refugee, Kanth, published in the Sunday Age, note that the week he received his negative ASIO assessment “He kept three balloons in his room and was speaking to them as if they were his family.”

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has so far refused to act on the issue, despite agreeing at December’s Labor National Conference to refer the issue for review.

The situation of the ASIO negative refugees shows up just how much Bowen is prepared to play with asylum seekers’ lives in his bid to gain cheap political leverage over the Coalition.

James Supple

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