Sovereign Borders: Detected, Intercepted and Removed 5k - 'Enhanced Screening Techniques': Torture by Another Name


‘Enhanced Screening Techniques’: Torture by Another Name

In addition to policies of intercepting and towing back boats, the Australian government has introduced a policy of Enhanced Screening. This is an Orwellian name for a process in fact calculated to curtail, not improve, due process for those claiming asylum. The process of Enhanced Screening involves interviewing people days or sometimes even hours following their interception or arrival. Interviewees are not informed that they have a right to seek legal advice or support. Assessments can be as short as four questions. The UN has expressed concerns about the compliance of ‘Enhanced Screening’ with international law. The process has drawn serious criticism based on Australia’s non-refoulement obligations, which prohibit the removal of anyone to a country where they are in danger of death, torture or other mistreatment, including arbitrary detention.

The very term ‘Enhanced Screening’ evokes the spectre of ‘Enhanced Interrogation’, the legal term used by the US to obfuscate its use of torture practices on the victims detained in its war on terror across its various gulags and ‘black sites.’ Situated in this context, the practices of Enhanced Screening must be seen as enabling acts of symbolic, legal and physical violence against those claiming asylum.


By stripping away crucial aspects of due process, the deployment of techniques of Enhanced Screening leaves asylum seekers exposed to the arbitrary and discretionary decisions made by bureaucrats, decisions based on assessment criteria that are not necessarily founded on procedural transparency and substance. In compelling asylum seekers to undergo, in certain cases, days of Enhanced Screening, these practices emerge as tantamount to the psychological forms torture enabled by the use of what are, in effect, Enhanced Interrogation techniques. Techniques of Enhanced Screening thus work to inflict on already traumatised and vulnerable subjects new levels of trauma, anxiety and fear: it is a case of further traumatising the already traumatised.

Finally, the very term ‘Enhanced Screening’ operates to categorise asylum seekers, before the fact and in violation of due process, as always already criminal until proven otherwise — they are effectively framed as always already ‘illegal,’ ‘terrorists’ or ‘fake’ refugees.  In thus framing asylum seekers as guilty before the fact, techniques of Enhanced Screening emerge as underpinned by a tacit confirmation bias that works officially to legitimate the spurious assumption that the bulk of those seeking asylum are not genuine asylum seekers; as a result, they can thus be deported back to their countries of origin where they may be exposed, as discussed below, to the physical violence of arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture. The symbolic violence enabled by the exercise of techniques of Enhanced Screening thereby often culminates in acts of physical violence against the victims of Australia’s systemic regime of refoulement.


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