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Australia: Security Storm Surrounds Convicted Egyptian Asylum Seeker

Accusations of ‘jihadist terrorism’ against an Egyptian asylum seeker have fuelled political brawling in the lead up to Australia’s election on 14 September 2013. Sayed Abdellatif was kept in low security detention for nearly a year despite an Interpol red alert for convictions during the Mubarak regime in 1999.

The Opposition parties’ election promises include turning back refugee boats and increasing funding to the intelligence and security agencies. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has responded by setting up an internal inquiry into the apparent security failure.

Stories abound about alleged terrorist Sayed Ahmed Maksoud Abdellatif. Some involve accusations of involvement with al-Qaida funding.

Others present a more positive side. On 14 February 2012 IRIN a non-profit news service funded by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs painted a much more heroic portrait of the refugee. He was in Indonesia preparing to take a dangerous boat trip:

Egyptian asylum-seeker Sayed Ahmed Abdellatif, married with six children, says he is ready to risk everything to reach Australia – even his family.

…for 41-year-old Abdellatif, who faces possible extradition and a 15-year prison sentence of hard labour in Egypt for his religious affiliations, the risk is worth it.

Australia/Pacific Correspondent for Reuters Rob Taylor tweeted:

‏@ReutersTaylor: Egypt's Sayed Ahmed Abdellatif was so “dangerous” that his story was profiled by the UN as a hard luck story! http://www.irinnews.org/report/94852/i

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition Sydney also disputes the case against Abdellatif:

A refugee advocate has called for the Opposition Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison to end his “terrorism” witch-hunt, and for the government to investigate the leaking of information by the Australian Federal Police.

Claims that ‘a convicted murderer’ has been held in low security immigration facilities are simply not true. This asylum seeker has never been convicted of murder or any specific terrorism charges.

Scott Morrison’s vendetta against ASIO and the Labor government is leading to a ‘trial by media’ of an Egyptian asylum seeker whose claims for protection have still not been considered by the Immigration Department.

On the other hand, Vietnam veteran Kev Gillett’s blog has an ex-soldier’s warning that we need to defend our borders:

Anyone with skin in the game or an interest in Australia’s security have been warning all and sundry that to let people into the country when they come via boats, having destroyed identity papers en route, is dangerous. These boat people are not all they make themselves out to be.

The Oz twitterverse has taken up the challenge. After reading Doubts about convictions of Egyptian asylum seeker at heart of political storm by the new Guardian Australia on 7 June, Andrew Watson accused the leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott and his Liberal Party:

‏@Andy_Downunda: #auspol It's reasonable to believe that Sayed Abdellatif is a Hosni Mubarak #patsy [victim]. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/07/conviction-egyptian-asylum-seeker?CMP=twt_gu@TonyAbbottMHR #myliberal

Todd Kirby was unimpressed with this attack:

‏@toddkirby: oh my god why are all the lefties jizzing over this Guardian article about Sayed Abdellatif? http://m.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/07/conviction-egyptian-asylum-seeker?CMP=twt_gu

Meanwhile a no-win situation faces successful asylum seekers in Australia who do not get a security clearance from ASIO (the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation).

Amnesty International explained in 2012:

…they must pass an ASIO security assessment – but this process is problematic. ASIO is notoriously secretive about their findings, and refugees with a negative security assessment have no ability to challenge a negative assessment.

What happens to those not granted security clearance?

Quite simply, they are stuck in detention – possibly forever. The Australian government cannot return them home due to their refugee status, nor can they enter Australia.

As AI reported, there is now an independent review process but if that fails, refugees are held in security detention indefinitely.

Rally to support refugees

Rally to support refugees
Photo: courtesy Indymedia CC BY-NC-SA licence

The inevitable lack of transparency that shrouds the work of intelligence and security agencies applies to the new review by a former Federal court judge. Takver joined the continuing criticism on Indymedia in April 2013:

55 asylum seekers have refugee status but are in immigration limbo as they have adverse security assessments from ASIO with no right of appeal or ability to question ASIO's sources.

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