An Egyptian man wrongly branded a convicted terrorist last year has had his asylum claim stalled in Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office for at least two months.
Sayed Abdellatif remains in the high-security Villawood detention centre, separated from his wife and children, despite the terrorism claims against him proving unfounded.
Mr Abdellatif’s case caused a political firestorm last June after it emerged that he was being kept in a low-security immigration facility outside Adelaide even though he was wanted under an Interpol “red notice” for terrorism crimes.
He was swiftly moved to Villawood and the Coalition, then in opposition, repeatedly branded him a “convicted jihadist terrorist” and lambasted the then Labor government for keeping him “behind a pool fence”.
But in a major twist, that Interpol notice turned out to be based on faulty information. In fact Mr Abdellatif was never charged or convicted on serious terrorism crimes in his native Egypt and turned out not to be a national security threat – a fact recognised by the intelligence and security watchdog last month.
A letter obtained by Fairfax Media shows that the Immigration Department has recommended Mr Morrison lift a bar that presently prevents Mr Abdellatif and his family from applying for asylum.
The recommendation was made on the urging of Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs, who has heard a complaint by Mr Abdellatif.
In a letter to Professor Triggs dated February 4, Immigration head Martin Bowles wrote that the department had sent a submission to Mr Morrison requesting that he consider using his “power to lift the … bar for Mr Abdellatif and his family”.
The letter states that the minister’s office has sought further advice from the department on the matter, but as of last week, the bar still had not been lifted.
Meanwhile Mr Abdellatif is separated from his wife and six children in Villawood detention centre, though his family is able to visit him for short periods.
“I have been separated from my family in detention for over a year for no reason,” he told Fairfax Media. “The separation has been extremely stressful for all my family including my children. We should be reunited and allowed to live in the community.”
He said the Immigration Department had ignored a continuing flow of documentation that proved he was innocent of the original false claims of terrorist activity.
“The Immigration department has ignored the new information from Egypt that reveals clearly that all the charges against me are politically motivated and are baseless,” he said. “I am as innocent as the Al-Jazeera journalists who are also the victims of a political trial by the Egyptian military.”
Through the Refugee Action Coalition – an advocacy group – Mr Abdellatif has provided Fairfax Media with extensive documentation from Egypt indicating that the claims against him were false.
These include statements from relatives who say they made false claims against Mr Abdellatif under torture.
A spokeswoman for Mr Morrison said Mr Abdellatif was still the subject of an Interpol red notice related to terrorism - a reference to the fact that there are still outstanding charges of belonging to a terrorist group and forging travel documents.
Mr Abdellatif denies these charges and has provided substantial documentation to Fairfax Media to show they are unfounded.
The spokeswoman said Mr Morrison stood by his comments from last year about Mr Abdellatif.