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Detention – no place for a one year old

Blog post by Senator Lee Rhiannon

Balloons and streamers bobbing in the wind showed us the way to the birthday house. These days this is not an unusual weekend sight in suburban Sydney. The Villawood home of the Ragavan family may look like a regular suburban house but it is effectively a prison, behind massive wire fences and heavy security checks.

I had come to the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre for the first birthday party of the Ragavan’s third child, Vahesan.  There are no photos of this delightful little boy as photographs are not allowed in this detention centre, where he has spent his whole life.

I had spoken with Vahesan’s father Yogachandran, a former chicken farmer from Sri Lanka, on the phone so it was now good to meet the whole family.

Although we shared in the children’s delight in opening their presents and playing with new toys we all felt the sadness this family live with every day. Their lives are in limbo. They have been granted refugee status but have been left languishing in detention because of ASIO has issued an adverse security assessment against the family.

Yogachandran and his wife Sumathi deny this allegation, but under Australian law they are not given access to the ASIO assessment so they cannot respond to the allegations.

This situation breaches Australia’s human rights obligations. 14 refugees in Villawood and roughly 40 Australia-wide are under similar indefinite detention.

In the UK refugees like the Ragavans are granted access to enough information about the adverse security assessment to allow them to respond to allegations and challenge them.

SERCO who oversee security at Villawood, probably at the direction of ASIO, have reassessed the security risk that they deem the Ragavans pose to Australia. There is now no longer a heavy security presence in and around their house.

Sumathi told us that when they first came to Villawood up to six security personnel followed their every movement. The guards watched them and took notes of what they did, including toilet visits.

I was appalled to hear that six security guards were on the other side of the curtain when Sumathi gave birth to Vahesan.

If the security risk posed by the Ragavan family is in fact real it can be adequately managed while this family lives in the community, with significantly less cost to the public purse.

This is what happens in the UK and there is no reason it cannot be replicated in Australia.

Minister Bowen has been seeking third-country resettlement for the Ragavans for too long now. It is not fair to the whole family to allow this situation to continue.

To date the Government has ignored recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security that appeal rights to the AAT be extended to refugees in this situation.


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