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Refugees jammed in ASIO bottleneck

  • 20 October 2010

New changes in immigration practice mean families and the more vulnerable will await decisions on their asylum claims in community accommodation rather than detention. This is welcome, as prolonged detention is bad for everyone. But one significant reason for the delays is not being addressed.

'Karim' is calling me nearly every second day now. His protection visa application was lodged nearly six months ago and he was interviewed nearly four months later.

His case is one of the strongest I have seen in 12 years. He was brutally tortured in his home country and has lived with the debilitating trauma of that ever since. He is severely depressed and showing signs of paranoia. He wrongly thinks his case will be refused because of the long delays in processing.

The delay is not caused by Immigration, but by ASIO security checks.

Despite my assurances and those of his excellent psychologist, Karim's paranoia makes him think we are lying to him and that he will be sent home for more torture.

Sadly, his experience is the rule, not the exception for refugee applicants.

In 2005, the Howard Government changed the Migration Act to speed up the processing of protection visas. A processing time of 90 days was introduced unless delayed by security checks. This was a welcome reform and one of the few positive changes in refugee processing made by that government in 12 years.

For a while, cases were processed quickly. Then the number of asylum seekers arriving increased, especially those arriving by boats. The delays in ASIO checks are now very long. Complaints to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) no longer result in satisfactory replies, but more Yes Minister style letters telling you the case is being processed and legal requirements are being met.

These delays affect people who have been positively assessed for the refugee criteria. For all purposes, they are refugees but legally they need a security clearance. It is reasonable that people get security checks, but why does it take more than a year for ASIO to advise that someone is not a security risk? As an Australian citizen, I would hope ASIO could assess someone as a security