Even one illegal detention is too many
247 people in the space of 14 years. That is how many Australian citizens and "legal visa holders" have been wrongfully detained by Australia's Immigration officials, according to the Commonwealth Ombudsman's report into immigration "detention bungles" in Australia from 1993 and 2007.
The federal government is scurrying to damp-down the issue, and it appears that the mass media has failed to push the story very far since it broke yesterday – bar the few ABC radio news items and their online report. Unfortunately, the main thrust of the issue being picked up in the media is how it can potentially cost tax-payers millions of dollars in compensation paid to the victims of wrongful detention.
What concerns me most is that such a serious issue as the wrongful detention of people – and the trauma they may have experienced – should be so quickly reduced to how much it may cost the government financially. As the Ombudsman, Prof. McMillan, said:
‘The loss of freedom through detention can have grave consequences for the individuals and their families. There should be nothing short of a careful and lawful exercise of the power to detain a person, characterised by thorough attention to detail and ongoing review of any decision to detain a person. Unfortunately, this was not the case in the majority of these matters’.It really upsets me to think that those of us living in Australia who come from non-Anglo migrant backgrounds, or who may be visitors from overseas, could be so easily accused of being here illegally and locked up, maybe deported – even with the protection of citizenship – due to the most shoddy of practices and processes. It's upsetting to think that being non-Anglo could make this a greater likelihood, as we saw with Vivian Solon, or having a mental illness, as we saw with Cornelia Rau.
I wonder how many of those wrongfully detained were American, Dutch or British backpackers who couldn't provide the correct papers after being picked-up by cops for a drunken night out, or were arrested at some strawberry farm for not being able to prove they were working legally. Not many, I bet. Comparatively, I wonder how many of them were of Asian, African, Middle Eastern, South Pacific or Latin American background. It is very hard to shake off the sense that Australia's immigration policies and practices are still so fundamentally racist.