Margo: Marilyn Shepherd is a longtime Webdiarist with an abiding dedication to helping refugees in Australia. Webdiary has run hard on boat people since the Tampa in 2001, and covered the Rau and Alvarez scandals in detail. (And see The skull beneath DIMIA's skin.) Today, Marilyn updates us on illegal detention by the inmmigration department. This is her second piece for Webdiary. Her first, in May 2005, was The citizen investigator: Marilyn's story.
After Cornelia Rau was found in Baxter in 2005 I began a hunt to see if it had happened to any others, and also to find any evidence DIMIA had that the Bakhtiyari family were from Pakistan. In between my searches and the public knowledge of the case of Vivian Alvarez I discovered a question on notice to the Senate dated February 2004 which stated “33 released, not unlawful”.
When Vivian Alvarez was found in the Philipines the information of this 33 was already public, so Amanda Vanstone launched an inquiry into the possible illegal detentions of other Australians, or worse other deportations. 247 cases were then sent to the Ombudsman with perhaps the saddest 10 being outlined in this link. The most chilling case was the case of LP, an Australian citizen child incarcerated for 149 days as “a visitor to his mother”. Just a guest of the minister in a regime of brutal detention that was utterly illegal. No-one bothered to ascertain if the reality was that the child was a citizen.
Just as they didn’t bother to find out if Rau was a resident Australian after they believed she was, but stuck her in an isolation cell for 65 days until the truth was revealed. She was then dragged naked from her room, shoved into an ambulance and taken to hospital where she hovered between sanity and permanent damage for many months.
Beside the children almost all of the 247 cases were deemed to have been legally in Australia, the longest illegal detention was 6 years and the shortest was a day or two. Worryingly, in this report an unaccompanied child was locked up only because he was found on a Friday and his parents were known of but not informed for the 3 days or so that he was in Villawood.
Last week we saw a mentally ill Indian man deported by force after three years in detention for failing in a business venture and having his visa cancelled.
So what has happened since Alvarez and Rau?
Alvarez is back in Australia but seriously damaged and crippled for life, finally compensated after more than an year and has disappeared from public view entirely.
I met Cornelia a few times a 2005 and was struck by her gentleness and beauty. She has made a niche for herself in spite of the odds being stacked against her and is living a relatively normal life studying in my beautiful city of Adelaide with the beach for comfort. She has yet to be compensated for her trauma and illegal detention so the lawyers are now confronted with litigation.
199 cases of long term detention have been reviewed by the Ombudsman and the reports are available on the same link as the children in detention I have supplied. Most of the people involved have since been released due to errors discovered in DIMIA’s processes - or lack of processes.
As a parting gift Amanda Vanstone reversed decisions on many of the TPV’s and waived waiting periods for permanent protection. Most have now been granted residence after up to 8 years in detention and in the community on tenterhooks and are being re-united with their families.
Abbas Al Khafaji, who faced permanent detention under the High Court's Al Kateb decision of 2004 is now a permanent resident, but his long term detention and trauma have caused Lupus with attendant kidney and heart failure which will kill him early. He is trying now to see his mother after almost 9 years.
120 of the people trapped on Lombok after we turned them away into the sea in 2001 have been accepted to Australia early this year. The last two Iraqis on Nauru have been accepted as refugees – Mohammad Faisal is here and mentally ill while Mohammad Sagar was rescued by Sweden.
Our dear sister Amal Hassan Basry, who managed to survive the SIEV-X disaster, was granted permanent residence and then died of breast cancer in March last year, will never be forgotten for her bravery, her spirit and her enormous heart. When Marian Wilkinson was here last week for the festival of ideas she read out part of Amal’s testimony about the drowning of the babies. It still makes most people weep with despair over that dark time.
All sounds a bit better than before, doesn’t it? Not really though, because Al Kateb is still on the books, we still lock up people for not having a visa even though it is not an offence in Australian law, and we still destroy lives and deport the mentally ill. We can legally deport non-citizen residents for bad character even if they have lived here for all but 27 days of their lives and we still lock up children, even if not in places like Woomera.
And the DIAC’s of today can still manage to write false reports for a minister to cancel the visa of an innocent young doctor and his wife based on the gift of a few free phone calls to a cousin 12,000 miles and 12 months ago.
Same old same old in other words and more Vivian’s and Cornelia’s are possible without reform.
PS. The Bakhtiyari family are still struggling in Afghanistan.