I don’t usually write about refugee policy because it’s vastly too complicated to do a good job. As I’ve said before, there’s no real debate in Australia because there are too many megaphones. Lefties believe every asylum seeker is sacred and incapable of the slightest evil; rightwingers tend to view Australia as being two border patrols away from Tomorrow When the War Began.
There are reasons for this situation. A lot of the lefty groups exist by virtue of donations. Keeping the bleeding heart do-gooders in a constant state of moral outrage is how asylum seeker advocacy groups stay funded. Politicians, on the other hand, need a faceless enemy to demonise for political gain. Rinse and repeat. As such, advocates from both sides have a vested interest in keeping the mass
The latest outrage surrounds the security assessments for a group of asylum seekers.
In order to enter Australia, each asylum seeker undergoes a security assessment when they’ve satisfied the other criteria for refugee status. According to the Refugees Convention:
The provisions of this Convention shall not apply to any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that:
(a) he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes;
(b) he has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee;
(c) he has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. [Source: Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art1F]
It’s the part of the Convention that tends to get overlooked. If the person has engaged in certain acts, the Convention does not apply to them.
Where this gets tricky is that Australia and the international community have stated their commitment to the Convention’s principle of non-refoulement. Australia will not force a person to return to a country where they will be persecuted/killed.
So imagine S has reached Australia and claims that they are a refugee for one of the five Convention reasons. They are successful in substantiating that claim, but it’s discovered that they were part of or supported a terrorist organisation. S is in a situation where they cannot be forced to return to their home country (due to non-refoulement) but won’t be accepted as a refugee (because Article 1F applies).
As Australia has a system of mandatory detention for people who are yet to be or are unable to be cleared for community detention, people in S’ position will be kept in detention until either they voluntarily leave Australia or the conditions in their home country change such that they no longer have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in their home country.
Unlike a lot of people, I am comfortable with this regime. Is there room for improvement? Yes. But the environment in which the system works is sub-optimal and there’s only a finite amount of money that can be spent, so there will always be room for improvement.
But the thing that has really upset people is that the security assessment isn’t reviewable.
Let’s go back to S’s situation. Imagine there’s a negative security assessment made about S. Under the current system, there is no obligation to tell S on what grounds the security assessment was made.
This has caused a number of people to get out their tired old soapboxes about rights and blah blah blah. Yet another example of the State trampling the rights of little people. Yet another example of why we can’t trust ASIO. Yet another reason why all asylum seekers are incapable of the slightest evil.
When framed as a competition between the asylum seeker and the State, it’s easy to feel that this situation is inherently unfair and unjust.
But it’s not.
When making a security assessment, ASIO rely on a wide range of sources. This will include reliable leaks from people in the area gathering information. To give the asylum seeker access to the information used to discover their security risks, you potentially expose innocent people to repercussions.
The Wikileaks crowd have probably made up their minds about that. Even Assange didn’t give a crap for informants helping the ‘Coalition of the Willing’. But I feel that Australia has a responsibility towards people who provide us with information, especially if it’s corroborated with other information.
Further, providing access to the information gives the asylum seeker the opportunity to inform others how the information was obtained, making it easier for them to cut the flow of information.
There are therefore good reasons not to provide the asylum seeker with the reasons for the decision. On the other hand, there are good reasons for improving the system.
A good suggestion was put forward to create either a chapter III court or an administrative tribunal that could review ASIO decisions. A senior public servant position could be appointed specifically for the purpose of representing asylum seekers in this process.
At any rate, Art1F affected people present a difficult legal and policy issue. Absolutists with megaphones won’t progress the discussion.