Thursday August 28, 2008 9:30am WST
For Immediate Release
"The news, as reported by The Australian's Higher Education reporter Guy Healy (transcript below) that hundreds of overseas students have been thrown in Immigration detention centres, and often for years, is yet another scandalous left-over from the fanatic excesses of the Howard regime and its deleterious impact on the immigration bureaucracy," WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.
"But Howard is now gone, and what this abysmal disgrace - and the report will go right around the world, once again damaging Australia's international name and standing - what this report shows, is how Chris Evans and Kevin Rudd have as yet failed to cleanse out the Immigration Department. While Howard may well have had "blood on his hands" over his handling of asylum seekers, Chris Evans has "egg on his face" over this latest revelation.
"As Project SafeCom has pointed out on repeated occasions, the Immigration Department is almost terminally damaged with its maintenance of the 'lock-up mentality', and its complicit agents, also in senior management levels, have kept their jobs, and Kevin Rudd as well as Chris Evans have made a serious mistake right from the start of taking office, in that they have tried to play down the scandal that Howard, Ruddock and Vanstone have brought over our nation."
"Chris Evans wants to be seen as a compassionate minister, but he lacks the courage to forthwith implement laws that for once and for all will make it illegal to lock up people in immigration detention without getting the approval of the judiciary, yet that is what he needs to do."
"Moreover, Chris Evans needs to also state, loudly and clearly, on the back of this story being reported right around the world, that he will immediately take steps for full financial and emotional compensation for each and every student that he allowed to be locked up in Australia's immigration gulags."
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Overseas students held like terrorists
Guy Healy, Higher education writer
August 28, 2008
NEARLY 300 overseas students have been thrown into detention centres in Sydney and Melbourne in the past three years after falling foul of Australia's immigration laws.
Documents obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws reveal that in the three years to the end of March, 299 overseas students were put into the Villawood detention centre in Sydney or the Maribyrnong centre in Melbourne. Most were deported and five are still in detention.
University, TAFE and secondary school students from 24 countries were detained. Most came from China, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Of the detainees, 207 were held for overstaying their visas, 30 for attendance breaches, 14 for failing their courses, seven for not starting their courses, four for withdrawing from their courses, one for a work breach and 36 for other reasons.
University of Sydney senior psychology lecturer Christopher Lennings said overseas students could be easily overwhelmed by conditions in Australia, leaving them vulnerable to breaches of migration law. "People's English is not as good, they get overwhelmed, have financial problems or illness. They get depressed and fail their studies, and next thing they know they are on a rollercoaster and have lost control of their lives," he said.
"The trauma period is within a few to 10 days, especially if they don't know how long they would be incarcerated for."
Students who have their visas cancelled -- often for working more than 20 hours a week, for attending less than 80 per cent of scheduled contact hours, for unsatisfactory academic results, for completing a course early, deferring study or transferring to another provider -- become unlawful non-citizens.
Once located, they are usually detained pending removal from Australia, granted a bridging visa or made to arrange their own departure.
Motahar Hussein, a 34-year-old former Charles Sturt University IT student, said he spent almost three years in Villawood after missing an official immigration notice because of a mix-up over access to his postbox.
"I was dealt with very harshly," he told The Australian. "I am not a criminal. I am a student and want to study electrical engineering. People arrested me and put me in a cell like I am a terrorist. My hair still rises on my body thinking about Villawood."
The Australian has learned that a former Bangladeshi university student has been detained for almost three years and one of the 27 Chinese nationals was detained 371 days.
Universities Australia chief executive Glenn Withers said that while illegal residency should be dealt with by deportation, these processes "should minimise the need for detention and ensure a proper allowance for associated refugee claims".
National Liaison Committee president for the country's 250,000 international students, Eric Pang, said it was "shocking to know that it's such a big export industry for Australia, where students are treated as cash cows, yet others are receiving such harsh treatment in detention ... If they overstay they should be deported."
Student detainee advocate Milchaela Rost said she was appalled by the figures and Australia was the only country in the world to detain some full-fee-paying international students.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans recently announced that mandatory detention for overstayers and unlawful non-citizens would only apply in certain circumstances, such as where a person presents a risk to the community, or where there is repeated non-compliance.