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Tamil detainees speak out after visas refused

[ABC, Monday, 29 August 2011 15:31 No Comment]

Four Tamil asylum seekers have expressed their concerns from inside immigration detention about facing long-term, indefinite custody.

The men have been assessed as genuine refugees, but had their visas knocked back after being declared security threats by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

They are part of a group of 38 immigration detainees who are directly petitioning the United Nations to be immediately released into the community.

The men say they left behind their lives, family and country in 2009 because they were harassed by both the Sri Lankan military and paramilitary forces.

Tamil asylum seeker Subramaniam Kokulakumar says they gave up everything to have a better life.

"We lived in constant fear, we wanted to escape that and lead a normal life – that is why we have come here," he said.

But after having their refugee claims upheld, the men were knocked back on security grounds.

"ASIO claims that we are a threat to national security," Tamil asylum seeker Sithiraseyanam Nigethan said.

"We have been classified as such even before we had entered the country. We don’t know what to do next and it is affecting us psychologically."

It is ASIO’s policy not to communicate the reasons for an adverse security finding, so the men can only guess why.

Another Tamil asylum seeker, Nararatam Selvakumar, says they are stuck in limbo.

"A murderer may be imprisoned for 10 years. But us, who have not done anything wrong, are here for an unknown period of time. No one is able to give us an answer," he said.

And the men say they are not Tamil Tigers.

"I have a common knowledge of the Tigers, just like any other person in Sri Lanka," Mr Nigethan said.

"I know as much as what the international community knows. I don’t know any more than that."

Professor of law at Sydney University, Ben Saul, says many people in Sri Lanka would have has some association with Tamil Tigers.

"In a civil war like that, everybody in the north or east of Sri Lanka has some association with the Tamil Tigers. The Tamil Tigers [were] the government," he said.

Appeal to the UN

Professor Saul is co-ordinating an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on behalf of 38 asylum seekers in indefinite detention.

The case also affects three children.

He says they cannot go back home because they have already been assessed as genuine refugees.

“Australia has not proposed any way forward for these guys they are stuck in detention. They have not been released into the community. There are kinds of other ways to deal with them but Australia has not used any of those legal options either,” he said.

The case to the UN states that immigration detention is unlawful because the reasons and evidence for an adverse security assessment have not been made available to the asylum seeker.

It has further claimed that indefinite detention is unlawful because no Australian court can review it.

In a statement ASIO says it cannot provide a reason for the adverse assessments.

“ASIO does not provide visa applicants with details that underpin an adverse security assessment because doing so would reveal ASIO’s intelligence capability and methods,” the statement said.

ASIO says rejected visa applicants are entitled to go the Federal Court or High Court to seek judicial review.

But Professor Saul says the ruling makes it impossible for the men to challenge the case.

“How do you challenge your exclusion from a country like Australia if you have no idea what the allegations are against you?" he said.

He also questions the evidence is against the asylum seekers.

“If there is a credible evidence that any of these clients has committed war crimes then Australia should prosecute,” he said.

“We have got extensive war crimes laws. Crimes against humanity laws, which would cover any of the violence which has happened in Sri Lanka.”

Refugee advocates are also concerned ASIO may be relying on the Sri Lankan government for information on Tamils.

ASIO says it draws on a variety of classified and unclassified information to assess visa applicants, and it always takes into account the credibility of available information.

‘Dead men walking’

With no immediate prospects for release, return or resettlement, the 38 asylum seekers say they are struggling in detention.

"We are all like dead men walking,” Kathirkamathampi Subendran said.

"We have been eyewitnesses to many incidents, and are aware that these things could happen to us as well. We are in mental agony, mental torture.

"Three of us have seen suicide being committed. We have witnessed a lot of people inflict self-harm by cutting their wrists.

"We are going through a lot of mental and emotional trauma. We have no peace. We feel empty inside."

The Immigration Department says every case is different and complex.

It says it may take "some considerable time" to resolve this case and the 38 asylum seekers will remain in detention until then.

"The options available will depend on the individual circumstances of each case. For example, it may be possible to resettle an individual or family in a safe third country in some cases," the statement said.

"Safe return to an individual’s country of origin may also become possible in some circumstances, particularly if there has been a change in their home country’s situation.

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