Locking up 51 men and women assessed as genuine refugees and keeping them in detention indefinitely without any charge being laid and without giving them a reason, is a travesty of justice, says Father Jim Carty, Coordinator of the Marist Asylum Seeker and Refugee Centre.
Joining many others who work with refugees and leading social justice advocates, Fr Carty has given his full support to the high court challenge mounted last week by human rights lawyer, David Manne which hopes to bring an end to refugees being locked up after adverse findings by ASIO.
Having been responsible for a High Court ruling that overturned the Gillard Government's "Malaysian solution," David Manne is now trying to put an end to the controversial practice of detaining refugees indefinitely and to force ASIO to give reasons for adverse assessments.
He is also hoping that as a result of the challenge filed with the High Court last week on behalf of an unnamed Sri Lankan man who has spent more than three years in detention, refugees will be able to appeal against these assessments.
Although David Manne represents only one of the 51 currently held in indefinite detention, any High Court ruling would have ramifications for each one and for any future asylum seekers found to be genuine refugees but denied a security clearance by ASIO.
Fr Carty hopes the High Court challenge will correct Australia's policy of indefinite detention that is so at odds with the UN Convention for Refugees which Australia helped draft and write in 1951. The Convention to which Australia is also a signatory promises to protect the rights and safety of those fleeing from persecution, torture and risk to their lives. But 60 years later, he says both sides of government are trying to abrogate their responsibilities under the Convention.
"To understand what is happening to the 51 currently being held in indefinite detention in Australia all you have to do is read Marcus Clarke's For the Term of His natural Life," he says. "The book might have been written to reveal Australia's shameful convict history but you could well be reading about the situation of today's small group of men and women have been virtually jailed for life and not told why."
Along with the 51 adults currently being held in indefinite detention are six children who are being cared for by parents or a parent who have been given negative security assessments by ASIO.
One the most poignant examples is the case of Ranjini, a Sri Lankan mother and her two young children. Her first husband was killed in 2006 during the Sri Lankan civil war. Somehow she and her two young sons managed to escape, arriving on Christmas Island in 2010. The next two years were spent in detention at different facilities around Australia. But finally in September last year they were found to be genuine refugees and granted visas, released into community detention in Brisbane while awaiting security clearance.
Then late last year, Ranjini met fellow Sri Lankan Ganesh who was in Brisbane on holiday from Melbourne. The pair fell in love and last month, with the permission of the Department of Immigration, she and Ganesh married. Moving to Melbourne, Ranjini enrolled two young sons aged 8 and 6 at Mill Park Primary School and a few weeks later was delighted to discover she was pregnant.
But just over two weeks ago, her happiness was shattered when with just five minutes' notice, she and her sons were whisked away from their Melbourne home and flown to Sydney where they are now being held in indefinite detention at Villawood.
"The reason they are back in detention is an adverse assessment by ASIO. But how can a young pregnant mother with two young children be considered a security threat?" Fr Carty asks.
With the 51 held in indefinite detention Tamils who fled Sri Lanka's long and bloody civil war, he believes the question we should all be asking is who are ASIO checking with before making its decisions who and who is not a security risk.
"In all likelihood ASIO is receiving information from the forces who opposed the Tamils. But with the civil war so recent, it is doubtful these sources would be reliable," he says and points out that just because people were Tamils and lived in a Tamil area of the country, this does not mean they were members of the Tamil Tigers.
"The Tamil Tigers have never been regarded as a terrorist organisation by Australian authorities or under Australian Law," he explains and believes even if some of those held in indefinite detention were members of the Tamil Tigers or forced to fight for the Tamils, this should not automatically mean they should be given an adverse security assessment.