Melbourne: A former full fee paying Indian student, incarcerated for two years in Australian immigration detention facilities, has given up his prolonged battle for justice and returned to India. He is the longest detained overseas student. Over four years after arriving in Australia, he recently signed deportation papers to release him from Baxter, where he was detained since March 2004 after being transferred from the Maribyrnong detention centre, handcuffed to two immigration officials. Just before his departure to India, the Australian government presented him with a bill of $97,000 for his imprisonment. Yet not even convicted criminals have to pay for their prison term.
By contrast, prisoners in India can study for a degree as part of their rehabilitation. "I am glad to be going home," he said by phone from Baxter. "All my appeals failed, but I hope my detention will help others. The government's policy of mandatory detention for overseas students is very harsh. I hope the law will be changed so that others don't have to go through what I did."
Although much detailed documentation about his situation was sent to the office of the Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, requesting her intervention, she did not exercise her special powers to review his case and release him. Letters to the Ministers for Education, Citizenship, the Attorney General, several politicians and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMIA) also failed to help him.. "My immigration case officer did not contact me once, or give me any advice at all while I was detained," he said.
In August 2004, Senator Lyn Allison wrote on his behalf to the Minister, "It is difficult to understand why there was any need to incarcerate him in the first instance but having done so, to keep him in detention for this length of time is clearly harsh and unwarranted." However DIMIA chose to take no further action in respect to her request. Only in January, after more than two years of correspondence, did DIMIA write to one of his advocates, "the information you provided has been carefully considered", but all the serious issues raised still remained unanswered, "for privacy reasons". By that time he had already given up hope and decided to let himself be deported.
During his demoralizing and exhausting experience in Baxter, he witnessed the inhumane detention of asylum seekers. This included hunger strikes, attempted suicides, inadequate medical treatment, the severe depression of some long-term detainees and the agony of Mr. Baktyiari.
He and his family were recently deported to Pakistan, but now live in Afghanistan, proving their claim to be Afghanistanis. "A man from Sri Lanka was handled roughly by guards about a year ago. Since then he still complains of sharp pain in his ears and head, but they only give him Panadol and some laugh at him," the student said. His own physical and mental health also deteriorated under the prolonged stress and uncertainty.
He also knew that a ‘German" woman, the mistakenly detained Cornelia Rau, was without psychiatric help, locked in the isolation compound where guards knocked on the detainees' doors at regular intervals throughout the night.
He was a bona fide overseas student, trapped in the complicated and irrational realities of Australia's Migration Act 1958. Students can lose their study visas and be detained for working more than twenty hours per week, or for insufficient academic performance or attendance. They thereby instantly become ‘an unlawful citizen".
In early 2002, this student's visa was unfortunately cancelled as a result of malpractices by the college he attended, and he was immediately detained by DIMIA without being given any opportunity to contest the allegations. He was released after paying $3500 for a bridging visa, which denied him the right to study or work, forcing him to live off borrowed money. Desperate to complete his studies and justify his family's huge financial sacrifices for him to study here, for three years he embarked on futile appeals and attempts to get his cancelled student visa reinstated. Only about five percent of students succeed in getting their visas reinstated through the Migration Review Tribunal. After his MRT appeal failed, migration agents then advised him that his only alternative was to apply for refugee status.
During the first year, when he was not permitted to work or study, he waited in limbo for the appeals. However, after many months he had to start working to repay his debts to friends for living expenses, but immigration officials caught him and forced him back into detention. Instead of choosing deportation, he still hoped that somehow he could finish he studies, so he continued several refugee appeals while being detained, but they all inevitably failed. With new legal advice in mid 2004, he focused totally on trying to get his visa cancellation reviewed by the Minister.
Although he allegedly breached the conditions of the student visa, he was never charged or convicted of any crime, yet ended up in a maximum-security prison. This was in clear breach of the UN International Declaration of Human Rights to which Australia is signatory. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission continues to lobby the government about the detention of asylum seekers and other ‘unlawful citizens". However, Eva Sallis, the director of ‘Australians Against Refugees" believes "the Migration Act is now a stronger instrument at law in Australia than any international covenant, or any human rights protection under domestic law."
Overseas students, whose visas are cancelled, continue to be detained and deported by DIMIA, unable to complete their expensive studies. A few Indian students have tragically suicides under the extreme stress. The number of overseas students regularly recruited by Australian education tertiary institutions to study here has increased for many years, especially from India. However, in the big marketing campaigns prior to arriving here, they are never told that mandatory detention behind razor wire fences can be the cruel consequence of breaching their visas for relatively minor offences.
Although these students spend much money here, paying more than twice the fees Australians pay, they seem to receive little understanding, assistance or compassion in exchange for their significant financial support of Australia's university system and multi-billion dollar international student export industry. One Indian student, who said he had spent $40,000 in total, was just one subject off completing his Masters degree when he had to work extra hours to just to pay for a lawyer to extend his visa. But he was caught, and remained in detention for one year while trying, unsuccessfully, to get his visa back. An Egyptian student visiting his detained brother in Maribyrnong, who claimed his father had spent $100,000 on their combined studies, said "The Australian government treats overseas students very badly."
In India, where unemployment is high, the recently departed student now faces new challenges. He has to repay his family for the huge financial sacrifice of sending him to study in Australia. As the eldest son, he is also expected to become the family's provider, yet they know nothing of his nightmare in detention because a situation like this can ruin their reputation. In Melbourne, Sudha Saini, former lecturer and producer of Indian TV program "Aajkal" said, "I can verify his particular story. I know how much some Indian students suffer here. They face many problems and difficulties."
Together with the South Asia Times, Ms. Saini brought up the issue recently with visiting Indian Minister Mr. Jagadish Tytler. During her TV interview with him, he said, "The students must follow the law of the country, but when they are in trouble, the Indian community should help them." Other lecturers at Latrobe University, Leela Gandhi, Raj Pandey and Sanjay Seth knew students could be detained, but not the extent of the injustice. "This is truly a disgraceful story," said Ms. Gandhi. "The problem in these circumstances is knowing what to do - how to act and protest meaningfully as a resident/citizen."
His friends and advocates in Melbourne have privately raised a small amount of money to help him start a new life. The taste of freedom will be sweet. Meanwhile, the detainees of Baxter have issued a statement calling for an expanded Rau inquiry. "We here at Baxter detention center plea for the pious and compassionate people of this great nation to not only look at the small picture of one Cornelia Rau but at the big picture of the humanitarian catastrophe of all those still suffering in this historical precedent of inhumanity. This is called Australian immigration detention."
© Michaela Rost email@example.com Michaela Rost is a Melbourne based independent freelance writer.
I am posting this article on the RAC web site because of difficulties seeing it on the web.
Overseas students are also subject to mandatory detention. Article in the South Asia Times. This link did not work on July 18th. (LA)
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