Imagine your life is hell. Bothered by bullets, disease, famine or some other horrible suffering brought upon you and your family. What is your first thought going to be? Escape.
You decide to escape by boat. Across the sea to somewhere different where you believe you will have a better chance at prosperity. There is a great risk of death in making the journey, but this risk is outweighed your belief that you would have certainly died if you had remained where you are, or even have endured a worse fate of abject poverty.
Then, after months of travelling, hiding out, you come to the last leg of your journey, a dash across the ocean in a leaky boat to the other side where salvation waits. You put up with the conditions, telling yourself that things will get better. That they have to get better.
Days later, you’re within sight of your destination. You can see the shore approaching in the far distance and inside you feel a sense of relief.
Your relief is short-lived. An Australian navy ship is rushing to intercept you before you reach the shore. Enter the first tentacle of the Australian government. Costumed men acting with military efficiency bundle you and all the others up onto their navy ship. You are not taken to the mainland, but an island where you are told you will be ‘processed.’
‘Processed’ is the key word. You are not human; you have no soul. Your name does not appear on any list or registrar. You exist and you exist in this territory without permission. People tell you this, that you’re illegal. You didn’t ask for permission.
Migration is a perfectly natural, logical decision that we humans have been making for centuries whenever the circumstances in our homes get rough or become life-threatening. We weigh up the risks, and often choose to leave for greener pastures. So many of us know that the way our glorious governments treat immigrants is wrong. It cannot be justifiable to demand someone ask permission to abandon their home in order to seek a new life and then to demand upon them such atrocities as a Bridging Visa.
But what is the most disturbing thing of all, is that when you are finally spat out of the bureaucratic machine enlisted to impart you with a soul, that you can be billed for trouble — as if you were staying in a hotel.
As of the 30 June 2008, there were 386 persons with active detention debts amounting to $7,705,576, according to Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) spokesperson Sandi Logan.
Any former detainee not granted a Permanent Protection Visa or Humanitarian Visa is billed for their time in detention, and any costs associated with their subsequent deportation.
According to Logan, “… the department has a standardised cost charged per day for detention across all mainland facilities. $125.40 a day is now the standardised rate charged across all mainland centres. The daily maintenance amount is never more than the actual cost of detention incurred by the Commonwealth.”
The overall detention costs include the cost of moving the detainee between different detention locations and the daily maintenance cost of detention, made up of expenses such as food and accommodation.
After fleeing Tanzania, Kasian Wililo arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker in 2002. He was held at the Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne from Jan 2003 and then Baxter (Port Augusta) detention centre from March 2004 to June 2005.
Mr Kasian fled his country, fell in love and got billed. And as with any bureaucratic function, you have to love the inevitable catch 22 that follows,
Mr Wililo is still waiting on approval for a permanent spousal visa. His May invoice stated that his outstanding debt would mean the criteria to be met in order to obtain a permanent visa would be “affected adversely.”
So that I am not accused of being too hasty, let me post what the officials have to say on the matter.
DIAC spokesperson Sandi Logan told Crikey: “The power to waive debts to the Commonwealth rests with the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and his delegate (in the Department of Finance and Deregulation). Each case is unique and decided on its individual merits …”
“The department is mindful of the amount of the debt and has offered the option of a repayment plan, so the individual can service his debt,” says Logan.
I suppose we shoudl thank Ms Logan, but something doesn’t seem quite right. Perhaps the answer can be found in the next paragraph:
Mrs Wililo confirmed to Crikey that the couple had been offered a payment plan — ”$4000 up front and enter into a payment plan of the debt plus interest.”
It’s always interesting to watch as legislation intended to ‘fix’ this ‘problem’ will be blocked by the Liberal party.
Yesterday Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone delivered the Coalition’s case on why they opposed the bill to abolish detention debt. She labelled the image of former detainees struggling under the weight of thousands of dollars of debt as a “furphy”.
However, fixing this one catch 22 with legislation has the problem that it doesn’t solve the problem facing thousands of refugees and illegal immigrants everywhere; that it is not and can never be illegal.