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Detained refugees thrown a lifeline

PRESSURE from refugee advocates and churches including the Uniting Church in Australia has contributed to the Australian Government setting up a review process for refugees who wish to contest adverse Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) findings.

The Uniting Church Assembly issued a press release on 5 October calling for the government to address the issue.

Uniting Church President Rev Dr Andrew Dutney described the indefinite detention of refugees as "unacceptable".

"We still see vulnerable people who have been determined to be refugees given a potential life sentence in detention facilities that are known to cause serious negative physical and mental health issues," he said.

The introduction of a review for negative ASIO assessments follows a recent High Court decision to overturn a regulation that had enabled the indefinite detention of a Sri Lankan asylum seeker.

Currently, claims for refugee status entail two stages.

The first, conducted by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), determines whether claimants are genuine refugees in need of protection.

The second, which begins once a person is deemed to be a refugee, is a security assessment conducted by ASIO.

Refugees are then either released into the community, or, if they receive adverse assessments, kept in indefinite detention.

Fifty-seven people currently in legal limbo will now have the right to have their assessments reviewed by former Federal Court judge Margaret Stone.

They will also have the right to have negative assessments reviewed every 12 months.

According to Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, speaking on ABC 7.30 program on 15 October, if the review decides that a finding was wrong, it will be referred back to ASIO, the Immigration Minister and the Attorney-General.

Speaking at a Senate committee hearing a day later,

ASIO chief David Irvine said that he will retain the final say over branding refugees security threats, and that refugees given an adverse assessment will not always be told the reasons why ASIO considers them a threat.