ASIO warning ignored for deal on Tamil refugees
Paul Maley and Lanai Vasek
From: The Australian
January 13, 2010 12:00AM
THE Rudd government approved the transfer to Australia of four Tamil refugees deemed to be a security threat while they were in detention in Indonesia to honour Canberra's special resettlement deal with Jakarta.
The revelation came as Immigration Minister Chris Evans confirmed that a fifth Tamil asylum-seeker had been given an adverse ASIO security assessment.
Senator Evans said the adverse security assessments issued against four of the 78 Tamils who engaged in a four-week standoff on board the Oceanic Viking in October and November, including a woman, had been handed down while they were in detention in Tanjung Pinang.
The opposition demanded to know why the government agreed to accept people who ASIO had already rejected.
Senator Evans cited Australia's deal with Jakarta to resettle the Tamils within four to 12 weeks, provided they agreed to end their month-long standoff on the Australian Customs vessel.
“We thought, given the time frames agreed with the Indonesian government, that it was best that we take them to Christmas Island, detain them there and work on resolving their cases in the longer term there,” Senator Evans said.
“There was an agreement with the Indonesian government about managing that caseload and we made it clear that we would take lead responsibility in those matters.”
A spokesman for the minister, Simon Dowding, defended the government's decision not to publicly reveal ASIO's judgments before the four were transferred to Australia.
Mr Dowding said government spokespeople “were not authorised to disclose or confirm details about the people until after they had arrived at their destinations”.
The opposition's acting immigration spokesman, Michael Keenan, said the arrangement was “almost impossible to believe”.
Senator Evans defended the arrangements by saying the assessments proved the system had worked.
“Those people have been identified as being of security concern and therefore they've been refused visas and they're in detention,” he said.
On Monday, The Australian revealed that four of the Tamil refugees had been issued adverse security assessments, making them ineligible for visas.
One of those was a woman who travelled to Australia with her two young children.
Senator Evans said a fifth Tamil – the woman's husband, who travelled to Australia by boat months earlier – had also been refused a visa on security grounds.
The minister said the family would be kept in “appropriate” detention arrangements, but that the children would not be kept behind razor wire.
The family would not be issued any type of visa.
“We're determined that these people be resettled elsewhere,” Senator Evans said
Yesterday, sources close to the process said it could not be assumed the five represented a danger to the community.
During the Howard years, two Iraqi detainees, Mohammed Yussef Sagar and Muhammad Faisal, spent five years in detention after they were issued negative security assessments.
Mr Sagar was eventually accepted by Sweden and Mr Faisal was allowed into Australia after ASIO revised its assessment.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Tamil Congress, Sam Pari, said the information underpinning ASIO's rulings needed to be “seriously questioned”.
“If the details are coming from the Sri Lankan government, well then that is of great concern, because they are who these people are fleeing from in the first place,” Dr Pari said.
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