THE Commonwealth Ombudsman has urged the Gillard government to find an urgent solution to deal with refugees deemed security threats by ASIO but whose mental and physical health is threatened by indefinite detention.
Six of more than 50 refugees to receive adverse assessments by ASIO have been in detention for more than two years, prompting a call for the government to give ''the utmost priority'' to finding ''alternative avenues'' for managing them.
Their plight is highlighted in a report on 47 people who had been in immigration detention for two years or more, including two who are still waiting for a final decision on their refugee applications.
The report comes more than eight months after Labor's national conference voted unanimously to ask the National Security Legislation Monitor to advise on how adverse security assessments can be reviewed and alternatives to detention explored.
A decision on a High Court challenge to indefinite detention and the denial of procedural fairness to those deemed security threats is expected in the next few weeks.
''The Ombudsman notes with growing concern the increasing number of people held in immigration detention for two years or more who have been found to be owed protection but have received an adverse security assessment from ASIO,'' says the report, by the acting Commonwealth and Immigration Ombudsman, Alison Larkins. ''Without changes to current policy and practice these people appear likely to remain in a restrictive form of immigration detention for an indefinite period.''
The report says the ASIO assessments do not ''absolve the government from its duty of care to detainees''.
David Manne, the head of the legal team that challenged indefinite detention, urged the government to act on the call, saying every day was another day of serious harm to people found to have a genuine fear of persecution if returned to their home countries. ''These are people who have fled from deeply traumatic situations and have been subject to years of indefinite incarceration,'' he said.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said 14 of the 47 remained in immigration detention but he signalled that no change was likely before the High Court's decision. Mr Bowen said the government appreciated that these were very complex cases. ''Such decisions are not taken lightly, but we cannot compromise on matters of national security where people have been found by ASIO to be a risk to the Australian community,'' he said.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said: ''The only way to fix this is to amend the ASIO Act to give proper judicial review and put a check on ASIO's power to detain refugees indefinitely.''