ASIO Checks Unreliable: Former Immigration Officer

ASIO checks unreliable: former immigration officer

The Sydney Morning Herald
January 15, 2010

ASIO's security checks are open to political interference and should not form the basis of rejecting refugees from Australia, a former immigration official says.

Few people know about ASIO's checking process. One of the last two men detained on Nauru had his adverse assessment dropped after contesting it in court. The other was resettled in Sweden.

Frederika Steen, who worked for the Department of Immigration for 17 years and knew the men, said five Tamils were now facing a similar limbo.

''It destroyed their lives,'' she said of the two Iraqis. ''The Government is hawking around for a country more humane than ours.''

The Iraqi men, Mohammed Yussef Sagar and Muhammad Faisal, became mentally ill after their indefinite incarceration as part of the so-called Pacific solution. They were on Nauru five years.

The government was unable to deport the pair because of the danger in Iraq or grant them residency in Australia. It now has a similar problem with the five Tamils.

Yesterday the Federal Opposition said the Government had ''breached our national security'' by flying four Tamil refugees, three men and one woman (who has her two children with her), from the Oceanic Viking to Christmas Island, knowing of ASIO's adverse security assessments.

Another asylum seeker to fail the checks was already on Christmas Island, having arrived by boat last year. He is the husband of the female asylum seeker from the Oceanic Viking.

''This is a government which is charged with safeguarding the security of the country and yet it has brought to this country people whom it knew to have been given adverse security assessments,'' the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said.

The UN Refugee Agency does not grant refugee status to anyone who has committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. It determined all 78 Sri Lankan Tamils who refused to get off the Oceanic Viking in Indonesia to be refugees.

The Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, said he did not know what the security concerns surrounding the five Tamils were. The Tamils were not discussed by the border security committee of cabinet, which met in Canberra yesterday.

''Those decisions are made by ASIO and they don't discuss the detail of those things,'' he said.

A refugee lawyer, David Manne, said secrecy was part of the problem. People suspected of being a risk were never told why. ''ASIO gets information but it never puts it to the person,'' he said. ''These people are stuck in indefinite detention but it's impossible to find out what the concerns are.''

The process had to be made transparent and subject to independent scrutiny. ''ASIO has made serious mistakes in the past,'' he said. ''It's crucial that we don't revert to the previous situation where these people's plight became a political football.''

ASIO draws on classified and unclassified information to evaluate a person's activities, associates, attitudes, background and character. The agency takes into account the credibility and reliability of information available, the ASIO annual report says. Where sources contradict, ASIO seeks to interview the person.

According to Ms Steen, repeated interviews, without disclosing the nature of the suspicions, bordered on harassment. ''ASIO got leant on. Its re-interviewing of the two men on Nauru was a result of political interference from the top.'' ASIO declined to comment.

A boat carrying 42 asylum seekers was intercepted five nautical miles off Christmas Island yesterday. The Opposition spokesman on Customs, Michael Keenan, said the boat's proximity to the island showed Border Protection Command was stretched beyond capacity.