Tamil Refugees Were A Known Security Threat

Tamil refugees were a known security threat

The Sydney Morning Herald
January 14, 2010

THE Government flew four refugees picked up by the Customs vessel Oceanic Viking to Australia knowing they were security risks.

The four were part of a group of 78 Sri Lankans promised quick resettlement by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, following a stand-off aboard the vessel in Indonesia last year.

The Tamils failed ASIO security assessments and now face indefinite detention on Christmas Island while the Government looks for other countries to take them.

Among them was the mother of two young children. Her husband was already on the island after sailing to Australia separately six months ago and failing his checks.

Yesterday, the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said all were ineligible to live in Australia. However, as the United Nations has found them to be genuine refugees in fear of persecution, they cannot be deported to possible harm in Sri Lanka.

''When these people were found to be of security concern we determined to take them to Christmas Island, detain them there and work with the [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] on long-term resolution of their cases,'' Senator Evans said.

ASIO would not say if they were suspected of links to the Tamil Tigers, the separatist rebel group defeated last year after decades of civil war.

While Australian Tamil supporters and refugee lawyers yesterday called on ASIO to release the grounds for the group's rejection, the Opposition accused the Government of jeopardising security.

''They knowingly brought people deemed to be a national security threat from a third country into Australia,” the spokesman for justice and customs, Michael Keenan, said.

The adverse security findings further complicate the Government's promise of fast resettlement to the Oceanic Viking refugees.

Senator Evans said their situation was ''undesirable'' but not a first.

Under the previous government two Iraqi men were held on Nauru for years after failing security checks.

''This Government has been very committed to trying to end that kind of long-term indefinite detention, but there's no doubt these are difficult cases,'' he said.

An immigration lawyer, John Gibson, said ASIO should release the basis on which it had concluded the people were a security threat.

''These people have been in Indonesia since 2005 and some, I gather, have been there longer. In other words they haven't been in contact with the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] and they are not recent combatants. I have real concerns as to the basis on which they've been designated by ASIO in this way,'' he said.