24 May 2012

Human rights lawyer sues Australian immigration authorities over indefinite detention

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A human rights lawyer on behalf of a detained refugee has lodged papers with the High Court over the Australian immigration department's policy of indefinitely detaining refugees who have been given an adverse security assessment.

Australian immigration

Human rights lawyer David Manne claims detained refugees have a right to know why the are being detained.

David Manne, the human rights lawyer who successfully scuttled the government's Malaysia Solution last year, claims that asylum seekers who are detained indefinitely in Australian immigration detention centres have the right to know the government's reasons for their detention.

Under current policy, asylum seekers who are given an adverse security assessment by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) have no legal recourse for finding out why they have been detained in a policy often described as Kafkaesque. Detainees with an adverse security assessment are left in detention until a third party country can be found for resettlement; a process that rarely occurs.

Mr Manne's unnamed client has been detained for three years and faces the prospect of being locked up forever.

"Our client is in a very desperate situation," said Mr Manne. "He is extremely distressed and has been extremely damaged by the experience of detention after fleeing from the trauma and persecution of his past."

Mr Manne's case names five defendants: ASIO's director general, the Immigration Department secretary, the officer in charge of Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and the Commonwealth.

The case could have widespread effects as more than 50 asylum seekers are currently detained in Australia after having received adverse security assessments.

"The predicament is this stark. A refugee is locked up indefinitely on the bases of a negative security assessment, made under a secret process on information he doesn't have, and for reasons he's not told and without any independent review or scrutiny of the decision," said Mr Manne.

"It's like being sentenced to life imprisonment without even having been charged, tried and convicted. It's like a secret trial, we don't know the process, we don't know the rules."

A spokesperson for Mr Bowen refused to comment as the case was currently before the court.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge their Australia visa applications with the Australian High Commission.

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