Politics Opinion

Moratorium needed on cruel deportations

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Detention centres such as Yongah Hill offer little hope for the future of immigrant detainees (Screenshot via YouTube)

A moratorium is urgently needed on deportations till a public examination oversights reforms to the Migration Act, which for too long has been tampered with by ideologue and populist scaremongering.

Human rights out the window. Thousands deported. 

Presently, an individual who I will only identify as Mr Singh, who completed a six-month conviction, upon his release from gaol has since spent seven years in immigration detention centres — 14 times as long as his carceral penance for possession of illicit drugs. He was to be forcibly deported but he succeeded with a restraining order against the Commonwealth. The order expired on 11 August. 

In 2014, under then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, changes were made to Section 501 of the Migration Act, in what was an extreme tightening of the character test.

According to figures provided by the Department of Home Affairs, 7,858 people have had their visas cancelled under Section 501. Nearly 80% have failed to have their visa cancellations revoked — the majority were self-representations. More than 6,200 people, many with Australian families and many with decades in Australia, were slated for deportation.

Just 1,638 have been revoked, which is little more than 20%. Some of those I assisted since 2014, a little over a score of souls, with a near 100% record of success — revocation or clemency. With only one individual was I not able to secure continued stay in Australia. With another, he suicided nine months after his release from seven arduous years in immigration detention which included 44 days of hunger striking.

Last year alone, 626 non-citizens had their visas cancelled, and so far, just 22 of those have been successful in their appeal. Recently, I succeeded in securing the clemency release of a dying father of six Australian-born children. Robert had arrived in Australia, aged ten months old and presently aged 50, has never left Australia but spent the last year and a half detained and queued as a deportee, till his recent last-minute respite.

I write of this to highlight the cruel anomaly of Australia not owning residents of many years, many with decades worth of Australia-living. It is a classist tirade to not own the good with the bad bits of its people. The other reason is to highlight the near 100% fail of self-presentation in the confronting murkiness of the legal quagmire. Everyone should be at least availed of quality legal support.

I have Parkinson’s disease and cannot further represent anyone. Instead, I am advocating for amendments to Section 501, so that fewer people are confronted with the cancellation of their visa.

Simply, residents who arrived in Australia as babies, toddlers, children and who are bred here, should be owned by Australia — the good and the bad. I should not have to explain this further.

Residents of long tenure in this country should also be owned by Australia, despite any carceral stretch. Their families are now Australian or have been born here. Their belonging is now an Australian context.

No crime should be criterion to make a resident of many years the problem of another country, even if it is the birth country. What sort of global citizenry is this, to make for instance an Australian problem that of another country?

As abhorrent as some crimes are, they are the concern of the country of residence, especially where one holds permanent status residency — as held by a significant proportion who have had their visas cancelled.

In December 2021, I represented a father of three Australian-born and bred children. Ian was born in the Philippines but had been in Australia for 27 years since he was ten, joining his parents and siblings who had arrived half a decade earlier. I won the case for this father who, since his release on 20 December, has worked full-time, providing for his children and volunteering regularly at a homelessness hub. That’s the perennial redeemer Australia should always slate.

In 2019, I assisted in preventing the ludicrous deportation of a First Nations father of four — Tim Galvin. He is a descendant of the First Peoples of this continent. His parents spent two years in New Zealand, where he was born, in 1987. They returned to Australia in 1989. He had not left Australia since. We had a government out of control, seizing power to do wrong. This describes the urgency for reforming the Migration Act.

Currently, I am inundated with more than 50 potential deportees who need an immediate moratorium by the Federal Government, stopping all deportations till reforms to the 501 are legislated, ending the human tsunami of deportations. Presently, there are nearly 700 souls slated for deportation. It's my opinion that we deport people at among the world’s highest rate.

I am supporting an Indian national, Mr Singh, who is of Sikh heritage. Singh is a common family name in the part of India he was born. We won’t identify him as he fears retributions to his family of origin. He arrived in Australia aged 21, in 2006, on a student visa. He completed his commercial cookery qualifications and journeyed various visas since.

He was in possession of illegal substances in 2016 and served six months incarcerated. He completed his sentence but upon release from a Victorian prison was detained by Border Force and spent two years in immigration detention near Melbourne. In 2018, he was transferred away from his familial support and his partner to Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre where he has spent a further five years.

Mr Singh said to me he has spent all his money, $100,000, on legal fees. He is left with nothing to show but his aspirant human right to remain in the country he has known for 17 years and where he is safe from persecution in his country of origin for borrowing monies from alleged “loan sharks” which he was not able to repay. Loan sharks are a diabolical problem in India. The nearby state of Kerala, Mr Singh’s region of origin, has led the way in India with the capping of interest rates by loan sharks to 18% to reduce the decimation in people’s lives.

Mr Singh secured a restraining order against the Commonwealth through a pro bono lawyer. The order prevented his forcible removal by the Commonwealth, but the restraining order expired on 11 August. He believes he will be forcibly removed, imminently. He has good reason to believe this as they intended to remove him earlier this year and only a restraining order saved him.

He is running out of time. So, too, are hundreds of others detained. Singh has been granted an extension to 21 August, so a hearing can take place next Friday. He should not be in this precarious circumstance. No one should spend years in detention. 

What sort of nation do we want to be? What type of nation does the Australian Government and all our federal parliamentarians want us to be?

How long before the Migration Act's 501 is amended to the humane? Till the reforms, a moratorium should be a no-brainer.

Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus on social justice.

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