Before the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US changed security perceptions, Muslim militants of all complexions sought Australia as a haven from security forces hunting them in their own countries.
A search of Refugee Review Tribunal records between 1993 and 2001 reveals that scores of self-confessed militants from Algeria and Egypt asked for and, in many cases, were granted political asylum after convincing authorities they were fleeing persecution, jail and torture.
Others claimed to be former members of Islamist groups, such as Algeria’s GIA (Armed Islamic Group) or Egypt’s al-Jihad before becoming disillusioned with the culture of assassination and brutality and choosing to desert. Al-Jihad (Holy War) is a secret organisation of militant Muslims. It split from the Muslim Brotherhood and is responsible for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and bomb attacks on tourists.
Disillusioned with murder, eh? Well that’s good. Would you like claim political asylum?
A spokeswoman for Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said yesterday ASIO was routinely involved in assessing refugee claims, but declined to say whether there had been any attempt to review old claims.
According to Amnesty International reports, during the bloody upheavals of the 1990s, armed Islamic groups in Algeria murdered journalists, writers, intellectuals, political activists, civil servants, teachers, magistrates and women accused of un-Islamic behaviour. Security forces responded with an equally bloody crackdown.
Official figures show that the refugee tribunal dealt with about 600 applicants from Algeria and Egypt in the seven-year period and many were accepted.
Several rejected applicants married Australians and later secured a visa.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
One successful Algerian applicant told the tribunal that he was heavily involved in a political group in Australia and produced evidence to prove it. He argued that his continued involvement with the “Islamist agenda”, which included the imposition of sharia law on “democratic” Algeria, had made him a target for security forces.
Another 34-year-old man said he was in danger of detention on return to Algeria because of his strong Islamic beliefs. He said he had been involved with fundamentalist groups since secondary school and worked as a spy and organiser for militant groups.
The tribunal member concluded that as the man was a supporter of the “Islamist agenda” he would be at risk if sent home and was granted a visa.
Other cases involved applicants who were members of militant groups.
A husband and wife fled Egypt after being told by an Al-Jihad Party official to rob a store and kill the Christian owner. They said they quit the party because they feared for their lives if they failed to carry out the order.
Up until their desertion the husband had worked “persistently” to recruit young unemployed men into the party and attended religious classes.
An examination of the cases shows that before September 11, 2001, tribunal members judging asylum claims took an open approach to Islamic political refugees persecuted by repressive governments battling terrorism.
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