The issue of asylum seekers is constantly testing governments around the world; Marilyn Shepherd reviews a new book by Robyn Oyeniyi and reflects on her own experiences in this area.
ROBYN MET JOHN in the Melbourne detention centre, when she offered to help him file an appeal against an adverse protection visa finding. They fell in love against the odds and wanted to be married.
John is a Nigerian who had to flee his home to avoid persecution and torture at the hands of his own government.
He tried in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, India, Bangladesh and China without success. None of those countries is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. He eventually ended up coming to Australia in 2008, where he was initially housed with a murderer.
His first application was unsuccessful. That is when he met Robyn.
She helped file paper work and gave him legal advice. Despite this, he was unsuccessful. He was deported from Australia back to Nigeria.
For anyone unaware of the inner workings of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) this book could easily be dismissed as paranoia on her part. This, however, would be dead wrong.
I have worked with the Woomera Lawyers Group. I know a good deal about the way DIAC work and what their high priced lawyers do to deny as many refugees recognition under the Convention as possible.
I know from many of the court cases I have attended, nothing is off limits when it comes to DIAC finding a way to deny refugees asylum.
John Oyeniyi's case, to my mind, was well-founded and his deportation put his life at risk without cause.
Robyn may not be aware of many other cases, but John's experience was not unusual.
I've seen cases where children are called liars by DIAC officials when they claim to have been raped in their own country.
I've heard government lawyers claim in the High Court of Australia that children in immigration detention are better off than with their parent(s) because they can choose to go "home" when they turn 18 years of age; the case in question was a baby born in Australian detention.
In another case, a DIAC lawyer argued that removing a 7-year-old child in detention with her father, forcibly deporting her to a mother – who did not have custody in Iran – was quite rational. The father ended up being placed in an isolation cell after he was accused of molesting his daughter.
John fared quite well in comparison to some others.
I have witnessed many court cases. I only mention these cases to illustrate what DIAC have been allowed to impose on innocent people.
However, this book is about Robyn. I dip my hat to her courage, her brutal honesty and ability to bare her heart and soul for a man she made the mistake of falling in love with. A mistake, however, only in the minds of DIAC.
Just over 3,000 Australians apply for spousal visas each year. Their stories can easily be ignored. The actions of DIAC can be brushed under the carpet and glossed over by the media.
Sadly, too many Australians seek to demonise foreign workers and refugees, inciting hatred.
Robyn is an Australian. Yet she discovered, in the hardest way possible, that she has no human rights protection in Australia.
She has the right to marry anyone she wants. She has no right, however, to have her husband and step-children join her without months of battle with an Immigration Department, whose motives are suspect in many cases and quite absurd in others.
DIAC pries into every part of her life. They pry into John's life through intrusions nobody should have to suffer. All this merely because they believe they are entitled to stereotype people from other countries with little reference on fact.
A contemporary case load is the flow of Sri Lankans currently seeking asylum in Australia. They are all deemed to be 'economic migrants' despite DIAC statistics showing that 75 per cent of applicants are accepted as refugees before setting foot in court.
It's very hard to critique the real life story of another person. I would advise everyone reading this to get your hands on a copy however you can. You must read it for yourselves.
Try and imagine how Robyn and John managed to stay sane. Why is it that one public servant in one government department can have such power in their hands? How can they have so little regard for the lives and human rights for those they are tormenting?
Robyn was one of the lucky ones. She had access to the considerable sums of money required. She had the stamina to fight.
The Australian Government makes illiterate refugees in Afghanistan go through the same process without seeming to care how many are slaughtered before their cases are even read.
Robyn's book is passionate, believable and shines light on a small but totally unknown case load, which DIAC deal with in the most uncaring manner.
Robyn is kinder to DIAC than I am. Maybe it's because I have personal experience witnessing a large number cases over a long period of time?
For detractors: if you ever find yourself in love with someone you meet and marry in circumstances similar to Robyn's, DIAC will put up more brick walls than you'll eat hot breakfasts.
Robyn had the belief that, because Australia has ratified the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, her right to be with her husband would be upheld. She soon discovered Australia's dirty little secret.
Australia loves to ratify international human rights law and pat themselves on the back as good international citizens. They then throw the conventions in the bin and refuse to make them part of domestic law, as required at the time of ratification. They are not worth the paper they are printed on.
The exception is the UN Refugee Convention, which is ironically the one we ignore the most often. It is actually enshrined in the Migration Act, but ignored when it suits.
Ultimately, Robyn and John's love sustained them. They are now happily settled here in Australia.
The battle Robyn had to wage against her own government shouldn't have happened. In fact, it shouldn't happen to anyone unless the relationship is demonstrably proven to be a sham.
The reality with refugee and spouse visas alike, is DIAC accepts as few applicants as possible regardless of how much people are forced to suffer.
They win so often against those who can't fight back.
Robyn's lawyers found the precedent in our courts that allowed their reunion where the judgement stated in summary:
".... people enter marriage with a variety of purposes and motives, hopes and anticipations, so that it is not possible to classify some purposes as according to what may be described as 'community expectations'. It is not necessarily inconsistent with a genuine marriage relationship that it was entered into by one or both parties with a view to material benefit or advancement, as for example with the hope of becoming eligible to reside in a particular country. The true test, we would suggest the only test, is whether at the time at which the matter has to be decided it can be said that the parties have a mutual commitment to a shared life as husband and wife to the exclusion of others."
For the entire 14 months of her appeals, Robyn maintained a strong commitment to John. DIAC had the power of the courts available to them.
Robyn and John are extraordinary people who deserve our respect.
I wish them the very best for many more years together.
Love versus Goliath can be purchased at www.teamoyeniyi.com/to-buy-love-versus-goliath/ for $9.99.
(Note: The opinions and assertions expressed in this article are those of the author.)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License