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Centre for Human Rights Education

Villawood Detention Centre: Growing Despair for Refugees with Negative ASIO Security Assessments

By Gaylene Galardi 22 November 2012 Community Relations Comments Off on Villawood Detention Centre: Growing Despair for Refugees with Negative ASIO Security Assessments

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Dr Lisa Hartley from the Centre for Human Rights Education recently visited the Villawood Immigration Detention facility in Sydney which includes the maximum-security centre that holds males and the Sydney Immigration Residential Housing (IRH) that holds mainly women and families (including children). The IRH includes in a small row of single-storey units, which are surrounded by CCTV cameras and fences.

Villawood Immigration Detention Centre

Lisa met with individuals at the IRH who, despite being found to be refugees have had negative security assessments from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and as such cannot be granted visas.  Family members, including children also cannot be granted visas.  There are currently 54 refugees in detention across Australia in this situation.. Many of these refugees have been in detention for extensive periods of time.  The current practice holds that they are not told why ASIO believes they are a security threat or what evidence the belief is based on. They are also denied the right to apply for a permanent visa. Their detention is, in effect, indefinite.

Refugees with negative ASIO assessments are growing increasingly distressed. Lisa spoke with one man who has been detained for over three years. Tragically, three days after Lisa’s visit he attempted to take his life. His desperation, stemming largely from a lack of foreseeable end to his and others’ indefinite detention, is not isolated.

Lisa met with a woman who has a negative ASIO assessment who is feeling similarly desperate. Her child is also detained at the IRH. Although children are allowed to go to school, they are escorted to school and back to the IRH by Serco officers. They are also only permitted to play within the fenced boundaries of the facility.

View from inside Sydney IRH to Villawood IDC

In October 2012, the High Court of Australia ruled invalid the regulation that allows for the denial of a visa to those who fail an ASIO security assessment.  In response, the Federal Government announced the introduction of an independent review process for such persons. Although this is a welcomed announcement, it is not without strong reservations due to the non-binding nature of the outcome of any review. In addition, while some of the refugees have been issued with a letter outlining this change, there has been no clear progress either in their protection visa applications or in finding alternatives to their indefinite detention.

CHRE continues to advocate for statutory judicial review of ASIO security assessments and for the urgent release of refugees with failed ASIO assessments from indefinite detention.

(Written by Dr Lisa Hartley)

(Photos from the Australian Human Rights Commission website)

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