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    Anyone can be a terrorist - can kids be terrorists?

ASIO: now targeting kids and lying to the Parliament

For the first time in history, Australian spooks claim refugee children are national security risks

During the days of the Petrov Affair and the Cold War under the Menzies government in the mid-1950s, Australia's Security Intelligence Organisation firmly cemented its own place inside Australia's Department of Immigration.

Called in by the first Immigration Department Secretary Tasman Heyes, the department gave ASIO carte blanche to deal with 'suspected communists'. ASIO kept its own secret filing system, only accessible to itself, in the Immigration Department, and it appears that once ASIO handled any 'suspected' cases, the Immigration Department relinquished all responsibility for their defence or immigration assessment. And, under Australia's White Australia Policy, the Department appeared all too happy to accept an ASIO assessment and deport people from Australia as 'undesirable aliens'.

Australia's White Australia Policy may well have been long abandoned, the Petrov Affair and the persecution of 'communists' has been reduced to one of our quirky and fascinating historical footnotes, but ASIO's role and modus operandi has not changed: ASIO is self-referential, not accountable to any outside public body overseeing its operations, and recently its asylum seeker 'caseload' has produced an increasing number of "negative security assessments".

If ASIO determines that you are a "risk" in terms of Australia's "national security", then you're not allowed to know why ASIO concludes this. Your lawyer is not allowed to know this. No judge in any court in Australia is allowed to know this. And, if you want to "appeal the decision" made by ASIO, you won't get anywhere: the ASIO decisions cannot be appealed by anyone.

If you're an asylum seeker waiting for your clearance as a confirmed refugee, or if you're a refugee already confirmed with that status in Australia, you go back into the immigration detention centre. And you could be there for the rest of your life.

What's on this page:

NOTE: this page does not deal with the October 2012 challenge to the non-reviewable nature of ASIO's national security declarations of asylum seekers in the Australian High Court. There is some very good material about this issue in New Matilda here and here.

In a limited way this page brings together a recent, unprecedented and controversial aspect of ASIO's interventionist work. First, it highlights that, for the first time in history, ASIO has declared some refugee children to be a risk to Australia's national security. This development is astounding, because under Australian law, a child has clearly defined limited legal responsibility and accountability - yet ASIO, without explaining this to anyone, also not to the parents of such a child, can make such questionable decisions. Second, now that questions are being raised about ASIO's work in this area, it appears that ASIO has tried to lie to the Australian Parliament.

Quick links:

Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.

ASIO the glasshouse intimidators

Is ASIO threatening the 'life of our nation'?

Champions of Change
By Vince Scappatura
February 14, 2012

Vince Scappatura is a doctoral candidate in the School of International and Political Studies, Deakin University. He volunteers at the ASRC as part of the campaigns and community speakers programs.

Right now, there are 54 people in Australia who have been found to be refugees but are facing the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in immigration detention because of an adverse security assessment from ASIO.

What does it mean that a person is deemed a security risk to Australia by ASIO? Nobody knows because the criteria by which they are judged is secret and so is the evidence used to make the assessment.

While there exists an appeals process for Australian citizens, refugees cannot respond to ASIO decisions or even be given an explanation for why they have been negatively assessed. They or their lawyers have no idea what they are accused of. Yet because they cannot be sent home (else they face persecution) refugees, including toddlers, are imprisoned indefinitely.

Just before Christmas in 2011, a suicidal Kuwaiti Bedouin teenager, locked up for a year and repeatedly hospitalised - including trying to hang himself from a double bunk bed - was the first minor deemed a security risk by ASIO. It means the boy, who arrived by boat as an unaccompanied 16 year old, will never be released under the current policy.

As Australia's national intelligence service, ASIO's responsibility is to keep Australia safe from threats to our national security. Yet their decisions may be undermining the very freedoms they are sworn to protect. In 2004, the House of Lords in the UK struck down a law which provided for indefinite detention of refugees who were suspected of being terrorists. In the final decision, Lord Hoffmann declared:

In my opinion, such a power in any form is not compatible with our constitution. The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these.

Given the persistent linking in political commentary of refugees and border security, it is worth recalling the facts about just how grave the 'threat' from refugees actually is.

Historically, the number of adverse security assessments issued for boat arrivals have been minuscule. In the peak years of 2000-02, ASIO conducted 5986 security checks out of a total 7167 arrivals by sea. They issued zero adverse assessments. In the year 2008-09, when boat arrivals again began to increase, ASIO conducted 207 security checks out of a total 1033 arrivals by sea and, once again, they issued zero adverse assessments. And from 1 July 2009 to 31 December 2009, ASIO conducted 988 security checks of which there was one adverse assessment relating to onshore boat arrivals.

Since that time, out of the nearly 7000 security assessments undertaken in 2010 and 2011, 54 refugees, mostly Sri Lankan and Burmese, have been blocked from permanent visas because ASIO has labeled them a security risk. That represents just 0.8% of all checks undertaken on boat arrivals during that period. As small as this number is, these negative assessments have come under severe criticism.

The Australian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it simply does not believe the ASIO decisions are warranted, and its own assessment has found the refugees don't reach "that serious level of threshold" that would exclude a person from refugee protection on security grounds under the Refugee Convention.

The credibility of ASIO assessments has been brought into question on numerous occasions. Mistakes have been made in the past and there have been allegations of political interference from within the Department of Immigration itself.

In 2004, ASIO was forced to pay about $200,000 in compensation to a refugee it falsely classified as a national security risk, causing him to be locked up for two years. At the time, ASIO refused to release any details or say which overseas agency provided them with the information used to make their assessment. It was later revealed through an internal inquiry that the agency had relied solely on information provided by the same secret police who had persecuted the asylum seeker in question and from a country with a dubious human rights record.

In another case in August 2005 two unauthorised arrivals received adverse security assessments by ASIO and, once again, the agency would not disclose the reasons why. One was later overturned after civil action was launched in the Federal Court of Australia and the other was resettled to Sweden who presumably found he posed no threat to their national security. Each spent five years in detention until they were released. More recently, in 2010, the credibility of these security checks once again came under question amidst allegations that ASIO sought back-channel advice from Sri Lankan military intelligence to assess the claims of asylum seekers fleeing from Sri Lanka.

Whatever the credibility of ASIO checks, the fact is it is highly unlikely for a potential terrorist to arrive in Australia seeking asylum. As counter-terrorism expert Dr Michael McKinley has previously stated, the chance of terrorists arriving by boat is "infinitesimally small".

Given these facts, it is essential the right balance be struck between the need to protect Australia's national security and fundamental human rights. The right to appeal a negative security assessment is crucial in ensuring this balance is met. If we grant that Australian citizens should have this right, why not other human beings? Especially when the consequences are as grave as indefinite detention.

In January 2012, the UNHCR urged the federal government to introduce some oversight to ASIO's decisions on refugees. It has provided details on how New Zealand, Canada and Britain allow a court or special advocate to review security assessments and give the subject a summary of the case against them. Richard Towle, the UNHCR's regional representative, says this is basic fairness, which can be balanced with national security and the need to protect classified information.

In the meantime, 54 refugees - including families with young children - will remain in detention for the rest of the lives unless something changes.

After fleeing their homes, many refugees now find themselves facing a new form of persecution in the very country that promised to provide them with protection. Australia is now denying others the same freedoms that we proclaim make us who we are. Lord Hoffmann's dire warning is just as relevant to Australia as the UK. In fear of defending our national security, we may well be at risk of destroying the 'life of our nation'.

Immigration mulls detention of suicidal teen

ABC News Online
First posted December 23, 2011 20:47:24
Updated December 23, 2011 21:11:59

The Immigration Department says it is considering where a suicidal teenage refugee could be detained after the Federal Court in Adelaide ordered he should be moved out of a Melbourne detention centre.

The 17-year-old Kuwaiti Bedouin has been detained for a year in Darwin and Melbourne despite being recognised as a refugee in April.

ASIO views the teen as a security risk.

His lawyers Slater and Gordon have persuaded the Federal Court to order the Immigration Department to move the boy into community detention with a supportive environment because he has self-harmed and attempted suicide.

But there is no immediate prospect of release for the boy.

The department has responded by saying it is considering where the boy could be placed to meet his medical needs, without any guarantees that will happen before the case returns to court to consider damages next month.

ASIO misled committee over teen

The Age
Kirsty Needham
January 7, 2012

ASIO has officially changed its response to a parliamentary inquiry after being accused of potentially misleading politicians about its dealings with child asylum seekers.

In a letter to the joint select committee on immigration detention sent on Thursday, ASIO now admits it issued an adverse security clearance to a 17-year-old.

The Age revealed this week that Kuwaiti teenager Ali Abbas, a recognised refugee who has been detained for more than a year, was told on December 15 that ASIO had in effect blocked his protection visa application - and his lawyers' request to move him into the community on medical grounds - by labelling him a security risk.

The Greens were angered that ASIO's written evidence to the inquiry a day later, on December 16, failed to mention the Ali Abbas decision, and instead gave the impression ASIO had never refused a child security clearance.

ASIO said its director-general, David Irvine, had signed the classified written response to the inquiry on December 14, the day prior to Ali Abbas being formally told of the ASIO decision, although the document wasn't sent to the inquiry until December 16.

ASIO's new response reads: ''As previously stated, as at 22 November 2011, ASIO had not issued any adverse security assessments in relation to minors. In the period since ASIO's appearance at the public hearing, ASIO issued one adverse security assessment in relation to an irregular maritime arrival who, according to DIAC [Department of Immigration and Citizenship] and determination, was aged 17 at the time of the assessment.''

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr, who met the teenager in Melbourne and is concerned by his suicide attempts, said in an affidavit provided to the Federal Court she was verbally told by immigration officials several months earlier Ali Abbas had failed his security check.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young called for the immediate suspension of ASIO checks on child asylum seekers.

ASIO said it has issued 304 ''non-adverse security assessments'' to unaccompanied teenagers aged 16 to 18 since January 2010.

ASIO cites security to block teen

The Age
Kirsty Needham
January 4, 2012

ASIO has issued its first adverse security assessment against a child - a Kuwaiti asylum seeker who repeatedly tried suicide after being held in immigration detention for more than a year.

The ASIO decision, for which no explanation has been given to his lawyers, condemns Ali Abbas, who arrived by boat as an unaccompanied 16-year-old in 2010, to deportation or indefinite detention.

It also appears to contradict evidence given by ASIO to a parliamentary inquiry last month that no child had been blocked as a refugee on security grounds.

Ali was found to be a genuine refugee by the Immigration Department in April, so cannot be forcibly returned to Kuwait. A Federal Court judge has meanwhile urged the department to shift him to a ''supportive residential or family based environment'' after hearing medical evidence detention was putting his health and safety at risk.

Refugee groups have condemned the ASIO decision. ''We would find it hard pressed to see how a child could have committed serious crimes against humanity or poses an ongoing threat to the Australian community,'' said Kate Gauthier, chairwoman of Children Out of Immigration Detention.

Ms Gauthier said ASIO had no expertise in dealing with children, and she was concerned its assessment criteria bore little relation to security guidelines in the United Nations' refugee convention.

An ASIO spokesman confirmed to The Age the case was the first time ASIO had issued an adverse security assessment to ''an irregular maritime arrival aged under 18 years''.

On December 16, ASIO had told a parliamentary inquiry it had never refused security clearance to a minor, although the Immigration Department had asked the agency to assess 304 teenagers aged 16 to 18.

Ali was officially told of the ASIO assessment on December 15, the day lawyers challenged his continuing detention in the Federal Court.

''This adverse security assessment was issued subsequent to ASIO's appearance at the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention,'' the ASIO spokesman said yesterday. ASIO director-general David Irvine appeared on November 22 and dismissed claims that ASIO assessed young children.

Ali turned 18 on December 31. An Immigration Department spokeswoman said his case would be back in court next Monday, and acknowledged the judge had told the department to move the teenager out of the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre on medical grounds.

Meanwhile, as two small asylum seekers boats, carrying 35 and 16 passengers, were intercepted in Australian waters yesterday, a senior Indonesian immigration official, Bambang Irawan, admitted a move by his government to ease visa restrictions on Sri Lankans may affect Australia.

ASIO screening of children criticised

The Age
Kirsty Needham
January 5, 2012

The Greens have called for the immediate suspension of ASIO security checks being conducted on child asylum seekers over concerns the practice breaches human rights obligations.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said a parliamentary inquiry would also need to urgently revisit the issue after revelations in The Age that ASIO evidence was incomplete and as a result ''could be seen to be misleading the committee''.

Kuwaiti refugee Ali Abbas was told on December 15, when he was 17, that ASIO had given him an adverse security assessment and he would never be allowed to stay in Australia. He had been in detention for more than a year, despite being found to be a refugee, and was previously hospitalised for repeated suicide attempts.

Senator Hanson-Young said yesterday: ''Children are not appropriate subjects for ASIO security assessments.''

''We call on the new attorney-general and the minister for immigration to immediately suspend referrals of children for ASIO security assessment pending a review of how these practices contravene the rights of the child.''

Senator Hanson-Young, deputy chair of the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention, on November 22 asked ASIO director-general David Irvine whether teenage asylum seekers were assessed.

ASIO sent a written response on December 16 stating ''as at 22 November, 2011, ASIO has not issued any adverse security assessments in relation to minors''. But the response failed to mention ASIO's adverse assessment of Ali Abbas.

ASIO said yesterday that Mr Irvine had signed the classified written response on December 14 - the day before Ali Abbas, now 18, was formally told of his adverse security clearance.

However the committee wasn't sent the unclassified document until December 16.

''ASIO ... gave the committee a written response on December 16 which did not include the most up-to-date information and, in doing so, could be seen to be misleading the committee,'' said Senator Hanson-Young.

An affidavit provided to the Federal Court has stated that refugee advocate Pamela Curr was told several months earlier by Immigration Department officials that the teenager had ''failed his security check''.

The Labor Party's national conference has called for the National Security Legislation Monitor, Bret Walker, SC, to investigate ways to provide an independent review mechanism of ASIO decisions against asylum seekers - which can't be challenged or fully disclosed.

A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the government would make a statement ''in the near future''.

A human rights act that came into effect yesterday, requiring new legislation to be checked against human rights obligations, won't apply to the ASIO Act because it isn't retrospective.

Pakistani deportee's life in danger, says father

Amanda Hodge
The Australian
January 9, 2012 12:00AM

A retired Pakistan Air Force officer whose son is to be deported from Australia this morning as a security threat says he fears for his safety back in Pakistan but is determined to clear his name.

Former chief technician Manzoor Hussain Ghumman told The Australian neither his 23-year-old son Salman nor other members of the family knew why he was being deported, but were concerned about his fate should he be picked up and questioned by Pakistani security services.

"I am very worried about my son because when he comes back he will be in trouble," Mr Ghumman said from Pakistan. "Maybe some police will take him away. I am hiding this news from my village and my friends. We're very scared for him. I think he will be questioned over this matter when he arrives in Islamabad.

"Nobody in Pakistan knows about this matter. We don't want anyone to know because people can be very crazy and make up bad stories about him."

Melbourne accounting student Salman Ghumman was detained late last month by immigration officials after several months of questioning by ASIO officials over phone calls made to Pakistan and why he was in Australia.

He has been held since then in Maribyrnong detention centre and is expected to be flown out of Australia this morning.

Mr Ghumman said he feared his son had been unfairly targeted because the family had donated money to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a banned organisation believed to be the charity arm of Punjab-based terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba. Jamaat-ud-Dawa is one of the country's most effective social services organisations.

The group was among the first to provide emergency aid and relief to victims of the 2010 floods that devastated large parts of Pakistan, including the Ghumman family's ancestral district of Sialkot in the province of Punjab.

Salman Ghumman, who arrived in Australia in July 2010 to study accounting at the Melbourne Institute of Technology, told The Australian by phone from Maribyrnong he was mortified at his situation and was determined to clear his name and return to Australia to complete an accounting degree at La Trobe University.

"They said I could appeal the decision from here but it could take more than a year and I can't stay in this detention centre. I don't want to go crazy in here," he said, adding he had spent hours trying to determine what might have triggered ASIO suspicions.

"If my father donated to a charity that is nothing to do with me. In the morning I go to college and at night I go to work. I have no money to donate.

"I have spent nearly $25,000 on my studies, but now all my money has gone into the rubbish.

"They have ruined all my future plans and they won't even tell me why. I have done nothing wrong."

Mr Ghumman said he had no political affiliations or connections with any extremist groups in Pakistan.

The Pakistan High Commission said it had not been contacted over Mr Ghumman's situation.

ASIO and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship refused to reveal the reasons behind Mr Ghumman's deportation.

Jail an option for deported Pakistani student Salman Ghumman: Islamabad

Amanda Hodge, South Asia correspondent
The Australian
January 10, 2012 12:00AM

The fate of a Melbourne accounting student deported to Pakistan on security grounds remained unclear last night after authorities in Islamabad conceded he could be detained under the country's strict anti-terrorism laws.

Salman Ghumman was deported yesterday morning after he was deemed to be a security threat by ASIO and his student visa was cancelled last month.

Mr Ghumman was flown out of Australia on a Thai Airways flight from Melbourne and was due to arrive in Islamabad about 10.30pm last night (4.30am today, AEDT).

An Australian Immigration spokeswoman said Mr Ghumman had left Australia "voluntarily" -- after the department cancelled his visa and refused to grant him a bridging visa.

Mr Ghumman, who had been held for several weeks at the Maribyrnong Detention Centre, has protested his innocence and said before his departure he had no idea why he had been labelled a security threat.

But he chose not to contest the ruling from Maribyrnong -- a process he had been advised could take more than a year -- and opted instead to return to Pakistan and fight for the right to resume his studies in Australia.

His father, a retired career Pakistan Air Force officer, said he was concerned for his son's safety and feared he could be picked up and detained by security officials on arrival in Pakistan.

A spokesman for Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency said Mr Ghumman's fate would depend on what information had been passed by Australian officials to Pakistani authorities. "If the Australian government or intelligence services have asked us to keep tabs on him, then he will definitely be questioned and probably detained. But if he is just a normal person coming back voluntarily and not deported as such, then I don't know," he said.

A senior official with Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency international co-operation wing said it was standard practice for Pakistani authorities to be alerted to a deportation by the former host country.

"Our immigration authorities at the airport will be aware well in time of his arrival and he will be asked some questions about why he is being deported," the official said. "Any documents on him will be checked and then a decision made by the relevant law enforcement officers."

The Australian Immigration spokeswoman said: "Australia adheres to its international obligations and does not involuntarily return people where they would face persecution or danger in the country they're being returned to." But she added: "Criminal investigations are a matter for Pakistani authorities."

Mr Ghumman's father said he feared his son had been unfairly targeted because the family had donated money to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a banned organisation believed to be the charity arm of terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba.

The fast-food date with ASIO that ended a dream

Amanda Hodge, in Islamabad
The Australian
January 14, 2012 12:00AM

Salman Ghumman was deep in plans for his future last month when ASIO called and began demolishing them.

He had been looking for a new share house, a new student visa to replace the one expiring in March this year and application forms for the university accounting degree he had spent the previous 18 months at a Melbourne TAFE working towards.

As it turned out, what he really needed was a lawyer, the 23-year-old Pakistani ruefully observed in Islamabad this week, days after being deported from the Maribyrnong detention centre as a security threat.

"Come to Flinders Street station," a woman on the other end of the phone told him after identifying herself as an Australian Security Intelligence Organisation officer that day. "Then we will tell you where to go."

Like a cheesy spy thriller, 30 minutes later at Melbourne's main railway station, his phone rang again. "They said, 'Come to Nandos on Flinders Street'," Ghumman says.

There, in the upstairs booth of a Portuguese flame-grilled chicken chain store, two ASIO officers questioned the devout Muslim student about his studies, his friends, his phone calls and his views on issues ranging from the conflict over Kashmir to the Pakistan charity organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa, proscribed by the UN as a front for Punjab terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba.

"They asked me about Lashkar-e-Toiba," Ghumman says. "I said it was banned by Pakistan when I was about 13 years old. What could I say about them? They asked for the phone numbers of all my friends and family and I gave them to them. I thought I had to."

Two days later, ASIO called again and summoned him to a food-less lunch at a Chinese restaurant near Melbourne's AMP Plaza where the only thing being grilled was him. Over three hours, Ghumman was asked to account for every one of his 208 Facebook friends. "They just kept asking me the same thing: 'Do you know anyone we would be interested in?' " he says. "I asked them, 'Who are these people you're interested in?' "

The timing of ASIO's contact may not have been coincidental. A week earlier, Pakistani American man Jubair Ahmad - born in the same Sialkot region in Punjab that Ghumman's family is from - pleaded guilty in a US court to providing material support to the LET by producing a propaganda video.

Ghumman, who grew up in Islamabad, insists he has never heard of Ahmad, has no ties to LET, Jamaat-ud-Dawa or any other extremist group, has no political affiliations or criminal record and, as a result, felt he had nothing to fear from ASIO. "I said, 'Ask me whatever you want because I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide'," he says.

ASIO said yesterday, for security reasons, it would be inappropriate to comment on specific individuals or investigations.

"However, ASIO officers may approach anyone in the community for assistance in the course of carrying out the security intelligence functions of the organisation," it said.

Ghumman moved to Australia in June 2010, determined to return with a degree, a job, money and the respect of a doting retired Pakistani airforce father who spent nine years away from his family working a till at a New York Dunkin' Donuts and sending home four-fifths of his wage every week so his two sons could have the best possible education.

Little wonder he had no intention of telling his father of his detention. It was The Weekend Australian who inadvertently told Manzoor Hussain Ghumman of his son's predicament after contacting him in his ancestral village in Sialkot last week.

Both sons went to the prestigious Angelique School on Islamabad's Embassy Road and Ghumman's elder brother now works as an accountant in Europe after studying there. Ghumman says he never thought of going anywhere but Australia, and puts it down to his love of cricket.

In the family's rented home in a middle-class suburb of Islamabad this week, Manzoor Ghumman Sr wears a worried smile as he tells The Weekend Australian he fears for his son's future. "My wife has been crying so much," he says. "I am worried about his education."

Manzoor Ghumman fears it was the family donations to Jamaat-ud-Dawa during Eid celebrations - when charities go door to door for offerings - that may have got his son in hot water.

While the charity is proscribed by the UN, it was a key frontline relief organisation during the Kashmir earthquake, the Swat war and both the 2010 and last year's floods that devastated swaths of Pakistan, including the Ghumman family Sialkot holding.

Salman Ghumman says he has nothing to do with Jamaat-ud-Dawa and had no money to donate to them as an international student in Australia, studying during the day and working at a kebab shop and a warehouse at night to pay his rent and living costs.

When we meet, Ghumman is dressed in black salwar kameez in the devout, ankle-freezer style. His beard and hair have grown much since the posturing, Western fashion-style photos posted on his Facebook site in his first months in Australia and he is no longer so keen on having his photo taken. Over tea and biscuits in the drawing room, Ghumman wonders aloud whether there was something he "liked" mindlessly on his Facebook page at the suggestion of a friend - such as the website calling for the US to free accused Pakistani terrorist Aafia Siddique - that roused ASIO.

Was it his family's connection to Sialkot, his predilection for traditional South Asian salwar kameez, or his link to the Preston mosque, conveniently located opposite his TAFE campus?

The mosque is the seat of moderate cleric and former mufti of Australia Fehmi Naji El-Imam, but was also once the infamous meeting place of radical cleric Mohammed Omran and Indonesian Jemaah Islamiah terror leader Abu Bakar Bashir.

Ghumman is far from the first deportee to be left wondering. Around the same time he was approached by ASIO officers, Preston Mosque held an information session with Melbourne lawyer Robert Stary to discuss harassment of Muslims by intelligence services. "For a while now, ASIO has been approaching and harassing members of the Muslim community, preying on their vulnerability and lack of knowledge regarding ASIO and the anti-terror laws in Australia," says the internet flyer for the event, still on the mosque website.

While no clear figures are available, a 2008 discussion paper by the Australia Institute found the number of people returned on security or character grounds rose into the hundreds after changes to the ASIO and Migration Act in the wake of 9/11 allowed officials to make subjective character assessments based on potential future activities.

Refugee advocate Julian Burnside QC is leading a push to reform the national security laws governing refugees and citizenship, which he says are so opaque that any adverse rulings are almost unchallengeable. "If a person is adversely assessed by ASIO, they're not told the reasons and can't find out," he says.

Ghumman concedes he may never know what brought him to the attention of ASIO and, as a Pakistani citizen acquainted with the extraordinary powers of security agencies, doesn't expect to. But he feels entitled to know why an Australian immigration officer who escorted him into Pakistan told a Federal Investigation Agency officer at Islamabad airport he was being returned for overstaying his student visa, and not because he was deemed a security risk.

If he is such a threat, why lie to Pakistani authorities? he asks.

Were they worried about his fate at the hands of Pakistan's notorious ISI spy agency after his father told The Australian last week that he feared what might happen to his son if he was picked up by authorities?

Burnside says the more likely explanation is that "telling a receiving country of an adverse assessment is a pretty good way of guaranteeing that the country won't receive them".

From a rumpled fold of thin green papers Ghumman produces the only official explanation of his treatment he has so far received: a list of references to the Migration and ASIO Acts and a sheet with a single damning sentence: "On 20 December 2011, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship was advised by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation that it had assessed you to be directly or indirectly a risk to security within the meaning of section 4 of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979."

On another page is a precis of what Ghumman told Australian authorities over many meetings: that he is from a respectable family, he went to good schools, he loves Australia and hopes to earn a degree and, a living there.

It was not enough.

On December 21, two immigration agents approached him on an outer Melbourne railway station and demanded he accompany them to an immigration building in Melbourne's CBD, where he was told of the decision to cancel his visa and the futility of appealing against the decision.

Fearing a long stay in detention, Ghumman opted instead for "voluntary" return, but says he is determined to appeal against the ASIO ruling, a somewhat Kafkaesque endeavour given he has no chance of knowing the basis of their conclusion and therefore little hope of disproving it.

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