The Guardian 18 May, 2005

Wrongful immigration arrests
and the rights of asylum seekers

Peter Mac

Last week, an Australian Catholic missionary, Mike Duffin reported that Vivian Young (also known as Alvarez and Wilson), who was unlawfully arrested and deported in 2001, was living at the convent hospice he runs in the Philippines.

In 2003, the Immigration Department realised she had been wrongly arrested and began looking for her. The search was intensified after scandal erupted over the discovery of another victim of wrongful arrest, Cornelia Rau, last year.

Father Duffin said he found it difficult to believe that the government could not find Ms Young, because the officials who briefed her before her deportation told her she would be going to live in a Philippines convent.

However, in a move revealing an extraordinary lack of rigour, the department did not interview these officials, but simply relied on the case files. Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone claimed that she could not interview her own officials because of the inquiry!

Instead, she immediately attacked Father Duffin for an alleged delay of a few days before contacting Australian officials about Ms Young. There were no thanks given, even though he was the one who found her, while the entire Australian Immigration Department had failed to do so despite a two-year search.

According to Father Duffin, Ms Young’s Australian story is one of considerable trauma. He denied she was mentally ill. However, another priest, Father Shay Cullen, commented: “She’s in shock from the trauma”, which had left a certain paranoia that was “not surprising if you’d been harassed like that.”

She claimed that after her marriage had broken up she had been forced to work as a sex slave in Brisbane, but had escaped over the border to NSW in 2001. However, she was then involved in a car accident in Lismore. She was very distraught. Officials do not appear to have believed her story and, because she had no passport, she was therefore assumed to have entered Australia illegally and was deported.

As a result of the accident, she now requires assistance to stand up, and walks with a limp. She did not at first remember her half-sister, Cecile, who visited her last week. It is not clear whether she actually remembers the two children she had in Australia, one of whom is now in foster care.

Ms Young’s half brother has noted that despite strikingly similar aspects of the cases of Ms Young and Ms Rau, Ms Young was deported in a matter of three months, while Ms Rau was kept for ten months in Baxter, and was not deported, possibly because she was white. Ms Young’s case may be considered by the Equal Opportunities Commissioner, Sev Ozdowski.

The opposition and various community groups have called for a full, formal and open inquiry into unlawful immigration arrests. Cecile endorsed this, commenting: “I’m not speaking for Vivian, but for the next victim who might already be out there.”

However, with the government about to take over the Australian Senate in July, the chances of such an inquiry taking place are miniscule.

Unlawful immigration arrests essentially concern human rights. While the government has been forced to deal with the issue of Australian citizens unlawfully arrested, it has not moved towards a better position on the human rights of asylum seekers. Peter Quasim, a stateless asylum seeker, has just spent his 31st birthday held within a detention centre, just like his previous seven birthdays.

The government is now posing the issue of human rights against Article Three of the UN Charter on Human Rights, which talks about the right of communities to pursue life, liberty and security of person. The government sees this as relating to terrorism alone, and superseding other aspects of the Charter.

The head of the Attorney Generals Department, Mr Charles Cornall, has told a conference that individual (human) rights might need to be curbed in order to deal with the threat of terrorism.

The Attorney-General, Phillip Ruddock, later endorsed Cornall’s view. In this respect he supported the new laws that give ASIO powers to arrest and question people in secret, possibly indefinitely, and to set new laws for their selection of lawyers. Apparently he sees no contradiction between this and the need to ensure that Australians enjoy “life, liberty and security of person.” There is small chance for human rights under such a government.

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