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Refugee rage

  • 28 April 2011

Minister Bowen's announcement of 'tougher measures' for refugees in detention harks back to a time when the previous Government kept finding new ways of vilifying asylum seekers. He is proposing changes to the character test and a new 'temporary visa'. It is sad that within such a short time, the Labor Government has moved away from the promising rhetoric of former Minister Evans at ANU in July 2008.

Senator Evans stated: 'A person who poses no danger to the community will be able to remain in the community while their visa status is resolved ... The department will have to justify why a person should be detained. Once in detention, a detainee's case will be reviewed every three months to ensure that the further detention of the individual is justified.'

As more boats came, and the Opposition ramped up the rhetoric to shrill antediluvian levels, the policy reforms were eroded. People were left in detention for longer and longer periods. The changes proposed do not address some of the causes of frustration in the first place.

I have clients in detention who have been there for over a year. Some took that long to finally get approval as refugees, now they are waiting for security clearances. When I contact Immigration about the security delays I am told they know nothing, as the case is being processed by an 'another agency' — code for ASIO. Immigration cannot tell me how long this process will take.

I have no reason to doubt ASIO are doing what they should, but they are clearly under-resourced, because it is taking 9–12 months or even longer to get the security checks. This period is commonly longer for clients out of detention.

When I complain about these delays to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) I am told in classic Yes Minister style:

'We will not provide any other feedback but will contact you if we require any further information about the case. I suggest you maintain contact with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) for information about the status of the visa application.'

In other words: Don't call us and we won't call you!

So DIAC tell me they are unable to tell me anything, and IGIS tell me to contact DIAC. As an immigration lawyer, I am frustrated by this circular process. What must it be like, then, to be locked in detention and told after a