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Project SafeCom News and Updates

Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Finding Anna: when Immigration gets it really, really wrong

A shower in the infamous Baxter detention centre's isolation unitNarrogin WA, 7 February 2005 - Astounding is the word, but I guess the story is familiar by now. 'Anna', or as we know now, Cornelia, an Australian citizen, went missing, and based on the fact that she was disoriented, spoke some German, and could not be identified, she ends up in Baxter's punishment block, after 'having been assigned' to DIMIA, the Department of Immigration, for being an alleged 'illegal immigrant'.

PHOTO: Shower cell in Baxter's Isolation compound

Pamela Curr, the campaign coordinator at Melbourne's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, did not let up on the story after it first came to light - thank you, Pamela! - she alerted me in the first week of January. I made some phone calls, but the story was dismissed by some others, and I was told "it was an old story", and that Anna had already been deported.

In the third week of January I posted Anna's story to the Project SafeCom website. A few days later I added information as it came to hand. Here it is. The several messages are followed first by Andra Jackson's report we managed to get into the press, in The Age (January 31) in Melbourne. Nobody else in the media was interested or got the point. Immediately upon reading Andra Jackson's report, Chris Rau, Anna's sister - who herself is a journalist - got in touch and we discovered how we had locked up an Australian citizen in isolation in Baxter.

No doubt the inevitable inquiry will become a whitewash, but it was an opportunity for all of the media to focus on what goes on inside the Baxter detention centre, and a few million Australians were able to glimpse into the stupidity of Australia's immigration strategies, and just for a second, we could shiver by the thought that this could happen to anyone.

Incommunicado, in isolation, in Baxter, and at the Minister's pleasure

Mentally ill and locked up in a RED ONE isolation cell in Baxter

Anna No. BX8311 - The mystery girl
January 19, 2005

Anna is not an asylum-seeking girl, but the story of how we treat children and human beings is deplorably illustrated through this report. It was posted here on January 19, 2004 when it had been received.

The treatment of this psychotic girl reveals the dark side of Australia's gulags. Unless a person detained signs a form giving permission for a lawyer to act on their behalf, NO-ONE can help. There is no mechanism to assist someone in detention who is not mentally capable of acting in their own best interests.

Anna, a German-speaking girl, has been locked up in Baxter since the 29th November. Baxter is a detention camp in the desert, surrounded by electric fences, razor wire and sensors. Anna is held in Red One compound where she is locked in an isolation cell for 18 hours per day. She is allowed out into the open air for 6 hours per day. Such is her terror of being put back into this cell that it takes 6 guards in full riot gear to manhandle her back into the room and close the heavy door. We have reports from witnesses that the guards are enjoying this aspect of Anna's behaviour.

Other detainees have repeatedly expressed concern about this young girl. They believe that she is mentally ill. Her unpredictable and bizarre behaviour, lack of communication and distress continue to worry fellow detainees. She exhibits psychotic symptoms, screaming and talking to herself at times and screams in terror often for long periods especially when locked in the cell.

Anna has refused to sign a form requesting legal help so no-one is allowed to assist or assess her. We are worried that she may not be mentally competent to act in her best interests. However under the Migration Act no one is allowed to act on her behalf unless she requests this in writing.

The German Consulate have been advised of her situation and condition at least 8 times. Initially they acknowledged that they were aware of her but that she had refused assistance. When it was explained that her mental state might lessen her ability to seek help, they promised to act.

When asked if they have been to see her after a month, they said, no - it is too far and that they have not enough staff! Instead they are waiting for confirmation of her nationality from Germany! This could easily be confirmed by Australian Immigration who will have either her passport or the computer record of her entry into the country with nationality recorded. A five-minute phone call could elicit this information if Australia would provide it.

Now the German consulate say that they do not believe that she is a German citizen. They do not know who she is and have been unable to get information on her from police sources in Germany but say that she is not German!

Who is prepared act on behalf of Anna? She is in danger, alone in Baxter. She is clearly mentally ill and needs care, not incarceration and brute physical force.

All attempts to get a medical or psychiatric opinion or asking the ministers office to intervene have failed.

Please email/fax the Ministers Office demanding that Anna be given the help she needs.

Jan 24, 2005 17:43 PST

We now have a situation where there is one female detainee in Red One. She seems to be very, very sick. She takes her clothes off and wanders around in this all-male compound. Screams obscenities, throws food at other detainees and smashes things. If I didn't know better, I would have thought she was put in Red 1 as a sexual provocation...

She was in the family compound previously.

The male detainees are treating her with respect but it is making their already difficult lives that much harder.

She speaks English.

More on Anna

Mon, 24 Jan 2005 11:01

Despite calls and letters to every agency, Anna is still locked up in Red One without psychiatric care. DIMIA dont know who she is so are keeping her there until they have "established her identity". Now another indignity .... a report from inside.

Some of the guys told me that the guards all gather round to watch a video monitor of Anna taking a shower - there are no curtains. (I don't know how they know this - maybe the guards tell them?) I suppose this is the least of her problems, but another insult to injury.

Anna is the only girl in Red One - the isolation compound. This would be highly inappropriate if she were sane and able to advocate for herself, it is wicked to put a psychotic, mentally unstable girl in the care of bozo guards whose morality and ethics sees nothing wrong with treating Anna as a voyeurs delight- what else are they doing to her to keep themselves amused? We know that excessive force is used to push her back into her cell after the allowed fresh air time is up.

We do not know what circumstances have driven this girl into mental illness. We do not know if she has been trafficked into the country. All we know is that she has now been locked up in Baxter for two months AND NO ONE CARES!!!

Please ring your local member and Peter Mc Gauran's office expressing your concern and outrage at this treatment of a young girl.

Speaking to Anna

Note from a Red One detainee

I write this letter with shocking mind. I just return from Church service. There I met Anna. Initially I scared to talk to her hoping that she would ignore and misbehave due to her condition.

In the Church service, she behaves very strangely very similar to downed mentally. I was worried that no one wanted to consult her or need to company her. Lately, I went and introduce myself and talk to her. She very gently asked to sit down in a bench and talk to me. Actually, she very nicely welcomed me. Then I understood that she need friends to talk and pass time. This treatment makes her situation worse. It is not hard me to understand how much pressure GSL put on her. There she talk lot about India and told that she happy to watch Indian movie. Further, about Indian culture.

One of my friend told me that they have signed a letter her to get lawyer assistance. I suppose what you wanted to do have already happened. Her memory also not bad but it seems this detention treatment made her worse. When we return from Church service, Van has come to bring her back to compound. She restricted to get in saying that she too need to walk like others and with them. I felt it is very fair and genuine request as human. We do the same when GSL restricted our moments. That was the point I understood she need company. I don?t know what to do but felt very bad as human. We also not in good mentality but when we see worsen than us hard to bear. Still feel sympathy on them, which has remained with us yet.

Mystery woman held at Baxter could be ill

The Age
By Andra Jackson
January 31, 2005

International efforts are being made to establish the identity of a young German woman held at Baxter detention centre in circumstances that have angered refugee advocates.

Other Baxter detainees drew attention to the woman after becoming concerned about her welfare. They believe she may be mentally ill.

"Anna" has been at Baxter, in South Australia, for nearly three months after north Queensland police handed her over to immigration officials in November.

It is believed she would not communicate and had no passport or identifying documents. Police were left with several possible names for the woman, believed to be aged about 18.

She has been locked in a Baxter isolation cell for 18 hours a day, according to refugee advocates. "They (detainees) believe that she is mentally ill. Her unpredictable and bizarre behaviour, lack of communication and distress continue to worry them," said Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne.

"She exhibits psychotic symptoms, screaming and talking to herself at times, and screams in terror often for long periods especially when locked in the cell."

The woman is allowed out for six hours a day. "Such is her terror of being put back into this cell that it takes six guards in full riot gear to manhandle her back into the room and close the heavy door," Ms Curr said.

Visitors have been unable to get a response from her.

Refugee advocates say the woman clearly needs psychiatric care rather than incarceration.

But under the Migration Act no one is allowed to act on her behalf unless she requests it in writing. She has now been persuaded to do this.

Refugee advocates have asked Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to arrange an independent assessment of the woman.

The German consul-general in Melbourne, Thomas Kessler, said a representative of the honorary German consul in Queensland visited her when she was in police custody but was unable to verify that she was German. The consulate was given an alias and an address to check in Germany, but these proved dead ends.

"We have been trying for three months now to verify that she is German," Mr Kessler said.

The consulate is in a bind: on one hand, while it may feel "a humanitarian impetus" to try and help the woman, "according to international law, we can only intervene if it is established that she is German . . . but proof of that is not available".

Ms Curr said this left her fate in the hands of the Immigration Department and Baxter's management, GSL.

A spokeswoman for acting Immigration Minister Peter McGauran said the minister could not comment on individual cases.

Jack Smit, a spokesman for refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom, condemned her treatment. "This is about someone being held incommunicado and it is a breach of medical standards because she should be in a psychiatric hospital rather than in Baxter."

He has put the case on his website and has already had one query from Germany.

A newspaper appeal is to be made in Germany to anyone who has a missing relative or friend matching the woman's description.

Link to the article in The Age

Project SafeCom News & Updates

For more news see also our newsletters:
• News & Updates 6 February 2005 | • News & Updates 7 February 2005

• News & Updates 7 February 2005 (2) | • News & Updates 8 February 2005

• News & Updates 8 February 2005 (2) | • News & Updates 9 February 2005

• News & Updates 10 February 2005 (1) | • News & Updates 10 February 2005 (2)

• News & Updates 11 February 2005 | • News & Updates 12 February 2005 (1)

• News & Updates 12 February 2005 (2)

My sister lost her mind, and Australia lost its heart

Sydney Morning Herald
February 7, 2005

Cornelia Rau, a mentally ill Australian woman, spent months locked in an immigration detention centre. Her sister, Chris Rau, and brother-in-law, John MacDonald, describe her living hell.

For the past 10 months Cornelia has been locked up - for six in a Brisbane prison and four in South Australia's Baxter detention centre for illegal immigrants. Her crimes: having a mental illness, giving authorities false identities and speaking a foreign language.

She had discharged herself from Manly Hospital's psychiatric unit last March and disappeared. The NSW police had been looking for her since August. We feared her dead, and the worst part was not knowing how, where or why. On Thursday night we learnt she was in Baxter. Parts of the mystery were solved, only to raise more questions.

John Howard promised an inquiry yesterday but refused to apologise, citing legal reasons. But one question we can answer for the Government is the litigation one: our parents definitely do not intend to sue and will write privately to the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone. Now it is the Government's turn to provide some answers.

Before Cornelia became mentally ill she was a vibrant, gregarious, empathetic person who loved her work as a Qantas flight attendant because it fulfilled her restless nature. People who met her commented on her talents: multilingual, artistic, tertiary-educated, beautiful. She seemed to have it all.

In 1998 she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but could still function well enough to work for several years before she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Eleven months ago we had already lost much of the old Cornelia, but no matter how dire the circumstances, she always knew who she was and contacted us when she was in trouble.

But that has changed. Where once she would seek hugs and reassurance from us, now she is telling nurses at Glenside, the Royal Adelaide Hospital's psychiatric wing, that she would rather go back to Baxter than be hospitalised. She is very determined her name is Anna Schmidt and that her passport is in Baxter, a senior nurse told us at the weekend.

The nurse said she could understand how Cornelia could be mistaken for a German because she spoke English with an accent (not usually the case) and insisted she wanted to return to Germany.

We are guided by Glenside staff's advice, which is to wait and see how her condition changes before we can go and see her. She has obviously lost all touch with reality, and what might have started out as subterfuge in Queensland last April has morphed into a dissociative state. Over the past seven years we and our parents, Eddie and Veronika, have helplessly watched Cornelia deteriorate into a secretive, suspicious, frightened and unpredictable person whose behaviour was at times bizarre. She has been in and out of hospitals to manage her condition, which she exacerbated because, perversely, she is health-conscious and refuses medication due to its side effects.

Our greatest fear is that these months of incarceration - any restrictions on freedom are anathema to her - have irretrievably tipped her over the edge and we'll never find her again.

But John Howard can rest easy: we are not litigious and are not yet so Americanised that we would jump at the chance to sue anyone for squillions. We don't blame him, Amanda Vanstone, assorted officials or anyone individually for the damage done to Cornelia, incalculable damage beyond price. (It would be nice, though, if there were an apology, financial assistance with accommodation in Adelaide and follow-up treatment for Cornelia.)

Our parents want to emphasise how helpful, beyond the call of duty, they found the Manly detectives investigating her missing-persons case and the administrators in South Australia's mental health system who organised her transfer to Glenside.

No one is immune from mistakes. With hindsight, our greatest mistake was not registering her with the police until August. There were several reasons for this, one of which was that my parents had already reported her as missing several months before her stay in the Manly psychiatric unit, after which she was found within two days. We did not want to be alarmist this time. The police are overburdened with mental health cases, which they are often untrained to handle, and we thought Cornelia would contact us as she had in the past.

Also, Veronika's mother in Germany died during that time.

Again, with hindsight, the improbable idea that she could have been in an immigration detention centre slipped under everyone's radar, ours included.

But now we move on to the real questions: How could the system allow Cornelia to suffer such horror? Are there others who have similarly suffered? And what must be done to ensure it never happens again?

Mr Howard has promised the inquiry but the portents aren't promising. Not when the Immigration Department's responses have been evasive and misleading. The media were told on Friday that the department was assisting us in being reunited with Cornelia. No one from the department has contacted us.

Then there are the Government's claims that Cornelia had been receiving medical treatment. An assessment of her (by whom?) is said to have been made (when?) in Brisbane in a psychiatric facility (which one?) where she was deemed as not meeting the criteria for mental illness (what criteria?). One can only assume that when Immigration assesses detention centre inmates its criteria for mental illness are tougher than those at Glenside, where doctors promptly put her in the intensive care, high-dependency ward under heavy sedation.

Which brings us to the shameful double standard Cornelia's case illustrates. While she was an unnamed illegal immigrant, the only treatment she received for mental illness was longer periods in lock-up as punishment for bad behaviour. From the information coming out of Baxter, the lock-ups led to a worsening of her condition and worse behaviour.

Yet, magic! As soon as she became an Australian resident she was whisked away to a teaching hospital, seen by consultant psychiatrists and medicated. During which leg of her flight from Baxter to Adelaide did she suddenly gain the basic human right to medical treatment?

Over the years we have heard of immigration detainees being denied access to psychiatric care, some with horrific mental illnesses and suicidal tendencies. How many cases like Cornelia's will it take until they receive the care they deserve, or more importantly, are taken out of conditions which in themselves lead to mental illnesses?

Another point. It has been the kindness of strangers that has allowed Cornelia to survive and ultimately be identified. First, the Cape York Aboriginal community took her in. In the past few months it has been asylum seekers in Baxter, who agitated on her behalf until the story appeared in the Herald last week, which led to her identification.

Amanda Vanstone is right. Authorities are in a difficult position when someone refuses to identify themselves and even gives false aliases. Luckily, we still live in a country where we are not held down while information is beaten or drugged out of us.

There are no simple answers, just as there is no simplistic question of blame or a scapegoat.

But one logical area to address - as the South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, pointed out - is the lack of co-ordination in our federal system. When Cornelia was registered as a missing person we had no idea this information was limited to NSW. We assumed there was a federal register linked to every police database in the country.

We also assumed she would be automatically picked up if she entered the prison system, as she did apparently for six months in Brisbane without being charged with a crime. Also, how did her age, 39, come to be estimated at only 18?

Our nightmare, which is only just beginning, is that we might get Cornelia back physically but, through the events of the past 10 months, the person we love may be lost to us forever.

Chris Rau is a former journalist with The Age. John MacDonald, her husband, is a reporter with Fairfax Community Newspapers.

Link to the article in The Sydney Morning Herald

The flawed system that failed 'Anna'

The Age
Federal politics
Michelle Grattan
February 6, 2005

Australia's detention regime is endless in its ability to shock. And the same goes for federal immigration ministers.

Amanda Vanstone's response to the revelation that a seriously mentally ill woman, Cornelia Rau, had been incarcerated in Baxter and elsewhere for months, on suspicion that she was an illegal immigrant, is extraordinary. Vanstone knows the Government is on the back foot. But she is defiant.

Let us consider what the minister says about the case of "Anna" as she called herself, before her identity was established (no thanks to the Government).

Anticipating attacks, Vanstone condemns in advance as "opportunistic" criticism of those who "have worked to care for the woman and determine her identity".

Presumably she means that critics will use the case to back up earlier reflections on the detention system or to make a political point. That's irrelevant - strong criticism of the handling of this case is called for. The failure to identify the woman quickly, or to properly diagnose her condition, is an appalling indictment of the system.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr, alerted by Baxter detainees that the woman was behaving in a highly disturbed way, contacted Vanstone's office in December. She was given the answer she has become used to - "we don't discuss individual cases". In January she made another call, talking to Paul Giles, one of Vanstone's advisers, to get the same response.

It was only after the story was reported by The Age's Andra Jackson last week that the identity of the woman was established - by her own family realising that this was probably the relative for whom they had been searching for months.

Jackson's story reported the woman appeared to be mentally ill and quoted Curr saying "she exhibits psychotic symptoms, screaming and talking to herself at times, and screams in terror often for long periods especially when locked in the cell". A spokeswoman for acting immigration minister Peter McGauran said - you've guessed it - that he could not comment on individual cases.

Vanstone has a duty of care over everyone who is in detention. Her office had also been alerted, in a way that should have led to immediate intensive investigation and identification of the woman. It has been a monumental failure.

Vanstone urges us "to consider the difficulties facing authorities in establishing the identity of someone who provides false information, provides no documentation and is either unwilling or unable to assist in confirming identity".

Really? What, one might ask, are police facing all the time, when confronted by criminals who won't tell them what they've done or, sometimes, who they are? Police and Immigration Department officials are supposed to have investigative skills.

The Queensland police interviewed this woman soon after she escaped from hospital last March. Local Aborigines who found her in North Queensland were concerned by her strange behaviour, and took her to the police. The police referred her to Immigration in early April after, Vanstone says, she told them she was a German citizen here on a temporary visa. Her story was that she had arrived in Melbourne around mid-March. She gave false names and history.

Vanstone says Immigration talked with Commonwealth and state agencies, had consular representatives visit her, and made "contact with the governments of several countries". Australian representatives overseas made "checks".

Why then, did Immigration miss picking her up from the missing persons list? Rau was reported missing around August and the NSW police appealed for help late last year.

We read all sorts of great stories about how missing people are traced. Here is someone who was on a list (obviously under a different name but there were photos and a mental health history filed with the police), and detained by the Commonwealth. Yet in all the checking that Vanstone claims was done, the listing and the detainee were never connected, until the family contacted police last week and police contacted Immigration at Baxter.

Then we have the issue of the medical assessment of Rau and her treatment while in the care of the Immigration Department.

Vanstone declares: "From the moment she came into Immigration detention she was provided with medical care, including psychiatric care which ultimately led to her admission to a psychiatric facility in Brisbane for assessment. This found that, while having some behavioural problems, she did not meet the criteria for a mental illness."

A group of Aborigines who had limited contact with the woman recognised she had problems that were serious enough to hand her over to the police. The detainees in Baxter knew she was in a bad way.

Yet the doctor or doctors who saw her under the aegis of the Immigration Department diagnosed her as just having "some behavioural problems". Maybe Immigration needs new doctors. It is alarming that serious mental illness can't be distinguished from "behavioural problems" - perhaps those looking at these things are too conditioned to people in detention being driven to strange behaviour.

Vanstone says Cornelia Rau's "is a tragic case, but one that has been resolved, giving comfort to the woman's family".

It doesn't give much comfort to her family however, to know that Cornelia has suffered months of anguish that should have been avoided. Nor can it give comfort to the community to know that someone can be "lost", Kafka-like, in the system, or that when a minister's office is alerted to a problem, nothing much seems to happen.

In her statement Vanstone notably makes no reference to the contacts made with her office, and this is the first of many questions that she should answer, before or when parliament resumes this week.

Just for starters: Was the minister personally alerted after Curr rang in December and January? Did she get regular updates on the case - if so, when and from whom? Why wasn't Cornelia identified from the missing persons list? How many doctors examined her in Brisbane and Baxter and what is their explanation for apparently misdiagnosing her mental state? Has the minister called for a report on alleged mistreatment of Cornelia while she was held in the Brisbane women's prison, which Immigration uses because it has no facility in that city? The claims, made by a group which advocates for women in prison, are that she was restrained in body belts and handcuffs, and put in a rubber room.

One of the most frightening aspects of this affair is that, according to Curr, everything the Immigration Department did was lawful. The system has failed totally, but lawfully. The law requires a person to prove that he or she is a citizen or resident: Cornelia did not do so, presumably because of fear of being taken back to the psychiatric hospital from which she had escaped or because she was not in fit mind.

One of the difficulties for refugee advocates in this case was that a lawyer could not become involved until Cornelia signed a form allowing that, which she did only recently. Things are loaded against someone who is helpless, for one reason or another.

The Rau case brings back under scrutiny a detention system in which many injustices have been done.

A most obvious current one is the treatment of failed asylum-seeker Peter Qasim, a Kashmiri from Indian-occupied territory who has been detained for more than six years. He has suffered depression and has spent some time in psychiatric care. He has said he is willing to be repatriated but he doesn't have papers and the Indian Government will not accept him. Vanstone's spokesman says there are "still identity issues" with Qasim and efforts continue to be made to secure his "genuine" co-operation on these. The Government is within its legal rights in keeping him incarcerated. But on any grounds of morality or decency this man should be let out and allowed to stay in Australia. He has no security or character issues that can be raised against this. The case is a scandal. As Adele Horin, writing recently in The Sydney Morning Herald says, "Qasim should be a household name in Australia".

There has been a lot of talk recently about how, now that the Government has control of the Senate, it will be the back bench that puts pressure on Howard over a variety of issues. There is already a ginger group on tax. It is time that some of those who have been deeply troubled over the years by the Government's policy on asylum seekers, children in detention, temporary protection visas and the like took up the Qasim case. In the past, the pressure of MPs such as Petro Georgiou, John Forrest and others has led to some limited wins. They should familiarise themselves with the Qasim case, raise the issue in the party room, and press for his release. If the dreadful experience of Cornelia Rau refocuses attention on what else is happening at Baxter, it will have achieved something positive.

Link to the article in The Age

Nobody cared

The Advertiser
By Laura Anderson and Paul Starick

The state's mental health chief threatened to personally assess Cornelia Rau's medical state after the Immigration Department resisted his calls for appropriate evaluation.

Mental Health Services director Jonathan Phillips pushed unsuccessfully for two weeks for a psychiatric assessment of Ms Rau - an Australian woman who was improperly kept in detention for 10 months.

As condemnation of Ms Rau's treatment grew yesterday, Dr Phillips said he first demanded federal authorities assess Ms Rau's mental state two weeks ago - almost a fortnight before she was released from Port Augusta's Baxter Detention Centre.

Department officials resisted his calls for an additional psychiatric assessment, forcing an angry Dr Phillips to threaten last Thursday to personally conduct the medical check if it was not done immediately.

But immigration officials transferred Ms Rau, 39, to Port Augusta Hospital later that day. She was taken to Glenside Hospital the next day for treatment for schizophrenia.

"I was so concerned on Thursday last week that I made it clear to the Rural and Remote Mental Health Service that I would do it myself if necessary," Dr Phillips said.

"I made the point that the assessment had to be done in keeping with protocol. That is very unusual for me.

"And obviously the person was assessed that afternoon."

Dr Phillips said that based on Ms Rau's behaviour, he was extremely concerned she was not diagnosed as having a mental illness. The Immigration Department has said that medical assessments of Ms Rau had been conducted at Baxter by doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists.

"I am a psychiatrist and that degree of disturbance ... would have alerted me as a psychiatrist that she would have been likely to have a psychotic mental illness," Dr Phillips said. "My concern was apparently the woman had been assessed by people within the Baxter centre and had been thought to have a personality problem, rather than a definable psychotic disorder.

"I was not not happy to accept that."

Prime Minister John Howard has ordered an inquiry into the situation, branding it "unsatisfactory" and "regrettable".

Ms Rau was listed as missing for 10 months after leaving the psychiatric unit at Sydney's Manly Hospital.

She was released from Baxter on Friday after being held there and at a Brisbane women's correctional centre since suffering a psychotic episode in Queensland in April.

She is being treated at Glenside Hospital, where her family says she remains "completely out of touch with reality" and is continuing to insist she is a German woman called Anna Schmidt.

Premier Mike Rann yesterday said Ms Rau deserved an apology, while refugee advocates demanded the resignation of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone. In a written statement, Senator Vanstone said the inquiry would involve "all aspects of the case" Ms Rau's sister, Christine Rau, said her family was still concerned for her, despite her treatment at Glenside.

"She is completely out of touch with reality," she said.

"She is still insisting her name is Anna Schmidt and that her passport is in Baxter and that she wants to return to Germany.

"We are concerned about her. She is refusing to see us."

Dr Phillips said he wanted assurances that the situation would not be repeated.

"No matter where a person is, if they are a citizen or non-citizen, an assessment needs to be timely, thorough and carried out by a person with the necessary skills," he said.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said Ms Rau's situation illustrated that "once people are in Baxter, they stand outside all human rights, laws and protections".

The Advertiser understands there have been concerns about Ms Rau within the SA Health Department since early December. A Central Northern Adelaide Health Service spokesman last night confirmed that her case file would be reviewed today.

British resident Eric Upton, detained in Baxter after overstaying his visa, was in a cell next to Ms Rau for three weeks and said he was appalled at her treatment. Staff, he said, would "laugh at her".

"They thought it was quite funny," he said.

Link to the article in The Australian

Cornelia Rau case shows need for independent psychiatrists' Baxter access

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Monday February 7 2005 6:30am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

"This week, the Minister responsible for asylum seekers and detainees as well as for Australian Indigenous people, should bow her head in shame if not in disgrace: it was exactly those two population groups she is supposed to serve on behalf of Australians, who brought Cornelia Rau's case out of the secrecy of the government-run dungeons into the public arena."

First, it was Aboriginal people in Queensland who could spot 'a mile away' that Cornelia had a mental condition, while detainees in the Baxter detention centre carried oversize t-shirts that covered up a Cornelia who took her clothes off when she was let out of her maximum isolation cell for a few hours each day".

"The statement issued this weekend by Senator Amanda Vanstone for the Immigration Department, declaring that Cornelia Rau underwent psychiatric assessment while held in the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre and was not suffering a mental illness is an indictment on the Minister: Cornelia was in the care of DIMIA while this assessment was conducted."

"It seems that Indigenous people as well as the long-term detainees, many of whom are on the verge of a mental breakdown themselves, have more sense of what constitutes a mental illness than Vanstone's so-called 'experts'."

"The events surrounding Cornelia Rau confirm that the repeated calls for independent medical access and psychiatric assessments by for example Dr Louise Newman, spokesperson for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, assessments made by professionals who are unencumbered by government interests or the agenda of covering up the shocking conditions in detention centres such as Baxter that lead to mental breakdowns in the first place, are sorely needed."

"This government stops the United Nations from having a look-in at its detention centres. It forbids Amnesty International from 'uncontrolled' visits. It forbids journalists, who serve "the public's right to know", from freely entering its hell-holes, unless it can 'sanitize' those visits. Now, the public had another opportunity of piecing a story together about what shonky affairs go on inside its detention centres".

"There have been nine deaths as a result of Australia's detention centre policies in the last couple of years. Dozens of detainees, many of them Iranians, hover on the verge of mental illness. In December, during the Iranians' hunger strikes, Dr Louise Newman called Baxter a de facto psychiatric hospital."

"Time has come for the Minister and the government to hand over the key of the hell holes to doctors and psychiatrists who are qualified, and to those who are not interested in cover-ups."

"We may then also find other people we don't know anything about, such as overseas and Asian students with limited English language skills, who innocently breached their visa conditions, and who have been thrown into these dungeons by the Minister, and we would like to know how many there are, and how long they are there, and in what conditions they are held."

Mentally ill Aussie in detention centre

The Australian
Andrew McGarry
February 05, 2005

A MENTALLY ill Australian woman spent 10 months in immigration detention, including extended periods in an isolation cell, after authorities failed to identify her as a missing person.

Cornelia Rau, a 39-year-old former Qantas flight attendant, was placed in detention last April after she was found by Queensland police in a psychotic state, apparently speaking German.

Ms Rau was released yesterday from Baxter detention centre, near Port Augusta in South Australia, and taken to Glenside psychiatric hospital in Adelaide after being identified by her family from photos of her in detention.

Refugee advocates claimed Ms Rau had been held in Baxter's Red One isolation compound, where her psychotic behaviour had distressed other detainees.

Her sister Chris said yesterday Cornelia had been a patient at the psychiatric unit at Manly Hospital in Sydney when she disappeared last March. "The thing she hated was being in hospital," Ms Rau said.

"I can only suppose she didn't identify herself because she didn't want to be put in a mental health facility, but she ended up being locked up in a far worse place."

Ms Rau, who came to Australia from Germany when she was 18 months old, was found by a group of Aborigines at Coen in north Queensland on March 31 last year.

They were concerned about her disturbed, psychotic state and took her to the police for her own safety.

She did not identify herself to police and spoke only in German. The police assumed she was an illegal immigrant and handed her over to immigration officials on April 5.

She was held at the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre for several months. She was transferred to Baxter four months ago.

The Immigration Department said it had gone to great lengths to establish the identity of Ms Rau.

"All the information provided by the woman led the department to believe she was an unlawful non-citizen," a departmental spokesman said. "At no time did she state she was a permanent (Australian) citizen."

The spokesman said the department contacted the police missing persons registry in Queensland, but not in NSW.

The governments of several countries where it was believed Ms Rau might have lived were also contacted, the spokesman said.

Her family declared her missing in August last year after she failed to make contact.

In November, NSW police appealed for help in locating Cornelia, saying she had been missing since March 17 last year.

About the same time, detainees in Baxter raised the alarm, sending messages to advocates that there was a woman in the centre who was very sick and needed help.

They believed she was being locked in for 18-20 hours a day and that she was constantly crying and calling to be let out.

One message from a fellow detainee posted on the refugee advocate website [transferred from another page to this Blog post] on January 24, said Ms Rau appeared to be "very, very sick".

"She takes her clothes off and wanders around in this all-male compound," the account read. "She screams obscenities, throws food at other detainees and smashes things."

It took until Thursday night for her family to identify her.

Chris Rau said her family didn't want to seek scapegoats for what had happened to her sister -- they hoped only that people could learn from the story.

"The two groups who were kind to Cornelia in all this time were the two most downtrodden groups in society -- the Aboriginal people in Cairns and the refugees in Baxter," she said. "There's an irony in that".

The Immigration Department claimed yesterday Ms Rau had been under mental supervision at all times.

"A number of medical assessments were conducted by healthcare professionals, including doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists," the departmental spokesman said.

Labor immigration spokesman Laurie Ferguson said the matter was of great concern and called for an inquiry.

"It's pretty dangerous if you have Alzheimer's disease or you speak a second language right now," Mr Ferguson said, adding that Queensland Police and the federal Government had questions to answer.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr, who spoke to Ms Rau at Baxter last month, said authorities should have been alerted earlier.

"Her English was fine," Ms Curr said.

"She told me then she really wasn't in touch with reality, but there was a moment of clarity when she just wanted to get out of Baxter.

"I spoke to a detainee two days ago and he said her English was so good he thought she was an Aussie girl."

Link to the article in The Australian

This could happen to you: warning

The Age
By Andra Jackson
February 7, 2005

Permanent residents face the nightmare of detention if they have no proof of identity.

Cornelia Rau's nightmare entrapment in the immigration detention system could easily happen to someone else, refugee advocates have warned.

Pamela Curr, co-ordinator of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, who tried to help Cornelia, said her fate could befall Australia residents who could not confirm their identity, whether ill or not.

It highlights that section 189 of the Immigration Act is open to abuse with its proviso that "an officer may require a person they reasonably suspect to be a non-citizen to prove who they are and their visa's status, and if they don't produce evidence of that, they can then be detained".

An immigration department spokesman confirmed that someone believed to be "an unlawful citizen" could be required to produce records of identity such as passports, birth or marriage certificates.

"If they are not co-operative, it is possible they may be detained," he said.

According to the 2003 census 950,000 permanent residents who have not taken out citizenship are potentially in this category.

What Ms Rau's case highlights is that measures meant to prevent someone simply "disappearing" without trace in Australia do not work.

A new national missing persons unit operating from Canberra did not have comprehensive records that included all reported missing cases with state police. There seemed to be no cross-referencing between state police.

Perhaps even worse, a story and photograph of the missing Ms Rau ran in an Adelaide newspaper in November but was not spotted by the Baxter and Immigration authorities. Lawyers and refugee groups are now asking whether anyone else is wrongfully "lost" in immigration detention.

The Kafkaesque aspect to the "Anna" case is that for 10 months alarm bells that were meant to bring about intervention against wrongful detention and treatment were rung. But those who should have been listening were not.

Ms Curr details calling the immigration department, Senator Vanstone's office, the federal Ombudsman office and writing to the Immigration Detention Advisory group in Canberra in December and January.

The president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Surgeons, Helen Newman, the South Australia Health Authority, and QC Gordon Barrett from the Refugees Advisory Service in South Australia were all blocked by the department when they tried to get access to "Anna".

Under the Immigration Act, a detainee has to sign a written request authorising such interventions and, even with a psychiatrist's recommendation, the department has final say in whether a detainee receives hospital treatment.

David Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said he had a number of detained clients with psychiatric problems who had been refused independent pro bono psychiatric assessment by a regime in which medication is administered by non-professionals.

He points out that under the Immigration Act "Anna" was liable for the cost of her treatment, which he estimates would run at $50,000 to $100,000.

The department has so far kept quiet on this aspect, perhaps mindful that Australian compensation cases for wrongful imprisonment have reached $75,000.

Ms Curr said the whole episode was "a bureaucratic nightmare" in which "police were very quick to jump to the conclusion that she is an asylum seeker, so let's lock her up" while all the immigration department had to do was to go to the missing person's folder.

Link to the article in The Age

Clues to woman's identity 'missed'

The Advertiser

WHILE Cornelia Rau languished in the Baxter Detention Centre as a suspected illegal immigrant, bureaucrats only had to pick up their newspaper for a clue to her identity.

The Sunday Mail, Sydney's Daily Telegraph and Melbourne's The Age ran detailed descriptions of Ms Rau last November following a public plea by New South Wales police to help find her.

The description in the statewide edition of the Sunday Mail on November 21 Ms Rau's 39th birthday included her name, age, height, weight, eye colour, hair colour, and that she had a distinguishing brown mole on her left cheek.

Despite these clues, no one in authority thought to check if the mystery woman matching the description being held in detention was Ms Rau.

Instead, after already being held in detention for eight months first in prison in Queensland, then in Baxter Ms Rau was left in detention limbo for another two.

It was only when her sister in Sydney saw a newspaper report about a mystery woman at Baxter and asked police to have Baxter officials fax a photograph that the truth emerged.

Immigration officials had previously organised an international search to identify the mystery woman, with appeals in several European nations and publication of the story in German newspapers.

They also checked with Queensland police but not with police in NSW where Ms Rau was registered as a missing person.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone defended her department's handling of the case, including efforts to establish Ms Rau's identity.

"From the moment she came into immigration detention she was provided with medical care, including psychiatric care which ultimately led to her admission to a psychiatric facility in Brisbane for assessment," Senator Vanstone said.

"This found that, while having some behavioural problems, she did not meet the criteria for a mental illness." Senator Vanstone said officials had gone to great lengths to establish the woman's identity.

"The woman maintained in interviews with Immigration that she was a German citizen who was in Australia temporarily," Senator Vanstone said.

She has called for a full report on the case which she would consider before deciding whether to hold an inquiry.

SA Premier Mike Rann said an inquiry was needed to ensure it never happened again, while the Australian Democrats and Greens also called for an inquiry.

"This is an extraordinary human tragedy that you would think could not happen in 21st century Australia," Mr Rann said.

"To have an Australian citizen who has lived here virtually all her life arrested in one state, listed as a missing person in another and put in a Commonwealth detention centre in a third is incredible. There must be a full inquiry to ensure this tragedy never happens again.

"We also need better co-operation between state and federal authorities to identify missing persons."

Mr Rann said reports Ms Rau spoke perfect English in a broad Australian accent when she was not speaking German added to his concern.

"If those reports are true it is even more bizarre that she was kept locked up for 10 months as a suspected illegal immigrant," he said. "There are millions of Australians who have accents, but we don't ask them to carry their passports.

"We need an inquiry to look at all circumstances of this case and how the system works because clearly there are flaws."

Ms Rau is now being treated at Glenside Mental Health Service.

Royal Adelaide Hospital CEO Kaye Challinger, who oversees Glenside, said Ms Rau was likely to need treatment for some time.

Director of Mental Health in SA Jonathan Phillips said mental health services for immigration detainees were inadequate.

"The issue is ensuring medical services are equivalent across the state and that includes detention centres," Mr Phillips said.

"We're working with immigration officials to develop a pathway for assessment of people in detention, to make sure people are assessed in a timely manner. It is in the final stages and we're waiting for Commonwealth and state officials to sign it off."

Mr Phillips said there were more people in Baxter who would require help for mental illness.

"Obviously in a group of 200 or so there will be people who will need assistance," he said.

"In the conditions of Baxter that number may be even higher."

Link to the article in The Advertiser


  • At Monday, February 07, 2005 9:19:00 PM, Blogger Benjamin Solah said…

    what I find extremely disturbing is the difference in here treatmeant and the media's perception between when they thought she was an illegal immigrant and when they found out she was Australian. Maybe this is the catalyst we need to expose what's going on in there.

  • At Tuesday, February 15, 2005 10:38:00 AM, Blogger moor-rul said…

    I am really worried and terribly afraid of what is going on in this
    country of ours, which for so long we have thought of as a true and
    just democracy.

    It doesn't look that way any more!

    If I am in slow decline mentally, and that is possible at any time, I
    can wander off, be picked up by the police, and because I have no
    ability to give them my personal details, I can be locked up in their
    cells, then perhaps, because I learnt French at school, start to talk
    gibberish and be handed over to DIMIA as an illegal immigrant!

    Then I can be sent to a detention centre for many months, put in an
    isolation cell because I start to protest and do weird things like
    throw off my clothing or eat dirt.

    Once, we would have laughed at this scenario, because we believed in
    the system of justice that prevails and are continually being told
    that the Government always protects it's citizens!

    But this Government has fallen down miserably in its duty to protect, not only
    it's own citizens, but those who make the hazardous and
    life-threatening journeys to come to us, seeking compassion and the
    freedom which we tout so loudly, but falsely, that we provide.

    I am afraid, very afraid!


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