Just how sick is the Immigration Department?
Immigration claims that 'people are our business' on its stationery, but does fanatic control with inflexible rules govern its operations?
As the "enforcer" of the White Australia Policy, the Immigration Department implemented policies and strategies that would, measured against contemporary international human rights standards, easily be classed as "psychological torture".
From 1901 to 1972, departmental officers implemented shocking policies such as the notorious "dictation test" and its associated forced deportation regime to "cleanse" Australia of unwanted residents.
While the White Australia Policy came to an end under the Whitlam government in 1972-3, no thorough inquiry or Royal Commission into the practices and operations of the Department ever accompanied or followed the ending of Australia's overtly racist practices and its associated culture at work inside the Department.
The Department's 'people are our business' slogan has no credibility when considering that its complex maze of rules and criteria are not only rigorously applied, but that they are applied without a skerrick of decency or moderation.
Australia's Migration Program dictates that applicants with a disability cannot be successful in gaining permanent residency. While this criterion is questionable if Australia rejects any forms of discrimination for its own citizens with disabilities, the Department applies this exclusionary factor with extremist zealotry, a total absence of sensitivity and, time and again, abject disregard for, and a total incapacity to apply, tact and empathy - instead showing signs of an entrenched extremism and a disturbing psychopathology in its culture.
If you think this is overstating the case, think again. Or ask doctor Cesar Sofocado - who for six years assisted Australia's well-known shortage of GP's. When he applied for permanent residency in 2010, the Department told him to divorce his wife, who had developed breast cancer.
What's on this page:
The case of Dr Cesar Sofocado is just one of the many stories that emerged and that keep emerging. Following the incredible scandals surrounding the cases of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez, the Department was apparently going to change. Apparently it hasn't. This page brings together a number of disturbing reports about what appears to be a deeply entrenched flaw in the culture of the Department.
27 October 2005: The Kiwi who went to Baxter - Two plain clothed policemen greeted me at the gate. They asked me to accompany them. They assured me that we were just going up the road and back. I knew I had nothing more to worry about than an overlooked traffic fine so, with curiosity and without concern I complied. Ten minutes later I was being held at the Maribynong Detention Centre.
20 November 2005: Chris Rau: Try follow the money trail... - "...one thing I keep getting back to, and that all of us should emphasise, is the potential for a public outcry if you follow the money trail. Forget human rights; forget the abuses that are still going on ... people simply don't want to know."
27 August 2005: Don't ask too many questions: the story of DIMIA's cover-up of the Vivian Alvarez affair - this is a copy of a 2-part article from the Sydney Morning Herald, written by investigative reporter David Marr: "The lies that kept Vivian Alvarez hidden for years" and "The cover-up comes unstuck".
20 July 2005: David Marr and The Palmer Report - The Palmer Report, or the report of the Inquiry into the circumstances of the Immigration Detention of Cornelia Rau, is damning. And so is David Marrr's analysis from the Sydney Morning Herald.
Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.
Detained man pleads: 'I'm not a threat to Australia'
A Pakistani warehouse worker swooped on by intelligence services, who deemed him a security risk, says he is not an extremist and has pleaded to be released.
Salman Ghumman was taken in to custody on December 21 by Immigration Department officials at Merlynston Station, just days after he was quizzed by authorities about phone calls made to Pakistan, NATO attacks, his movements and why he was in the country.
But the 23-year-old denied he was an extremist and said he was not a threat.
"I've got a beard. I can't think of any other reason (my visa was cancelled)," he said.
"I've got no future. I'm not a threat to this country."
Mr Ghumman's Facebook site links to a group backing terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani doctor with extensive terror links jailed for 86 years in 2010.
But authorities won't tell Mr Ghumman why he is being thrown out of the country.
"Then they interviewed me again and they were asking me one by one about my friends ... Most of friends are in Pakistan. I don't have (many friends) in Australia."
Mr Ghumman, who is being held at the Maribyrnong detention centre, came to Australia in July 2010 to study accounting at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE.
He lived in Melbourne's northern suburbs, worked in warehouses and attended mosques in Fawkner and Preston.
The Department of Immigration declined to say why Mr Ghumman's visa had been cancelled, but said he was now in the country unlawfully.
"The person no longer met the legal criteria to hold a visa, therefore the visa was cancelled making him an unlawful non-citizen and subject to detention," a spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General's department also refused to say why Pakistani authorities had been contacted or whether he faced charges.
"It would not be appropriate to comment on operational matters," she said.
Liberty Victoria president Spencer Zifcak said adverse security assessments from ASIO meant people could be kept in detention indefinitely.
"The problem is these people cannot find out the reasons for these assessments," he said.
"To hold people indefinitely on no charges without appeal is in breach of virtually every human rights convention Australia has signed on to."
Sick South African pair allowed to stay
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says he will overturn his department's decision to evict a South African couple aged in their 80s because they were deemed to be a potential drain on Australian taxpayers.
Mr Bowen told Fairfax radio in Sydney this morning that South African husband and wife Ernest and Daphne Konschel, aged 84 and 83, could expect "some good news before Christmas" regarding their appeal of the Migration Review Tribunal's announcement this month that their aged parent visa applications had been rejected and they would be deported.
The Age revealed this month that the Konschels were set to be deported because Mr Konschel, who has mild dementia, had failed a second health test. The couple came to Australia on tourist visas in 2006 and applied for permanent residency.
They live in Melbourne with their daughter, Beverley Loyson, and rely on her for care.
A jubilant Mrs Loyson thanked "everyone who has supported us" in their quest to win permanent residency for her parents.
"You get to a stage where you're just waiting for the inevitable and it's going to be negative so to know you've actually taken on Immigration and you've won is just amazing," she said.
Mrs Loyson and her brother, who lives in Brisbane, have promised to pay for all of their aged parents' medical needs.
Mr Bowen said it was standard procedure for the Immigration Department to overturn visa applications such as the Konschels', in line with migration law, if deemed to be detrimental to the public interest. But he said that as minister he could intervene and overturn the decision "on compassionate grounds or common sense grounds", and would do so in this case.
"In cases like this where somebody has overstayed their visas - which is what these people have done, they've come under a visa and stayed longer than the visa allowed them - we often get requests to stay permanently because of health reasons, and in cases like this the law gets applied by the department and the department says no," Mr Bowen said.
Residency row mother dies
A Filipino woman has died more than a year after authorities told her doctor husband his application for permanent residency would be guaranteed if he divorced her while she was terminally ill.
Mary Maris Stella Sofocado died at Kalgoorlie Regional Hospital on Friday from breast cancer.
The Immigration Department last year told Cesar Sofocado, a GP who came to Australia six years ago to help fill a shortage in regional areas, that he and his two daughters could not be guaranteed residency without the divorce because of his wife's illness.
Without legal ties to her husband, Mrs Sofocado would have had to return to the Philippines to die.
The family were granted permanent residency on compassionate grounds in April after The West Australian exposed their plight .But Dr Sofocado claimed the system had failed again because of poor palliative care on two occasions at Kalgoorlie hospital.
He had lodged a report with the WA Country Health Service claiming lapses in hourly checks and charted doses of morphine not being administered as prescribed.
Immigration edict leaves child humiliated at graduation ceremony
Sydney Morning Herald
See also A fathers cry for help
Preschool graduations are the latest rite of passage, with certificates and stage performances to mark the children's big event - but for Abinajan Rahavan, 4, graduation this week was a ritual humiliation.
The Immigration Department refused to let the Tamil boy take the stage with classmates for their performance on Tuesday, and stopped him sitting in the class photo.
The reason for this? Immigration detainees cannot be photographed in public. Despite attending the western Sydney school, the young asylum seeker was forced to ''disappear'' from the celebration, photographed by other families.
His distressed father, Yogachandran, who attended, has told friends his family was disgraced and his son singled out.
The Rahavan family are recognised refugees, but because the mother has a negative security assessment from ASIO, they live in indefinite detention at Villawood. Mr Rahavan is increasingly worried about the impact on his children aged 1, 4, and 7.
''The department's overriding of the parent's consent to participate in these activities that might be photographed is disgraceful,'' the Rahavans' lawyer, Stephen Blanks, said.
A department spokesman said the photograph rule existed to protect detainee privacy. The department was sympathetic to the Rahavans' disappointment, but permission to participate in photographs must be made in advance, he said.
''In this case, the request was made during the event, which unfortunately concluded before the detention services provider [Serco] was able to secure approval from the department.''
But Mr Blanks said it was not an isolated incident.
At a birthday party for one-year-old Vahesan in September, where guests included the Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, photographs were similarly banned. Guards instead took photographs, on condition the images were not given to the family until they were released from detention.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has questioned the lack of transparency around ASIO decisions on Tamil refugees.
Labor passed a motion at its national conference requiring the national security legislation monitor, a position within the Prime Minister's office held by Bret Walker, SC, to advise on how an independent review of negative ASIO decisions about refugees can be established.
Senator Rhiannon said the Rahavans's incident ''highlights how deeply wrong the current policy is''. ''It's not a matter of waiting for an inquiry ... We know how this issue is handled in New Zealand and England,'' she said.
''The family should be out in the community ... The dad and mother are doing a good job but they are effectively in prison. The mother is quite depressed. The young man who recently died was one of their neighbours.''
Blind worker stays: Bowen
Blind social worker Simran Kaur has won her two-year battle for permanent residency after Immigration Minister Chris Bowen overruled a tribunal decision that her disability would be a financial burden.
''It finally means security,'' Ms Kaur said. ''For two years, it has been like a sword hanging over our heads.''
But while Ms Kaur, 30, and her husband, Jasmeet Singh, are jubilant, the laws that reject almost all disabled applicants for Australian residency remain, more than a year after a parliamentary committee's report called for greater flexibility in the regulations.
''We congratulate the minister for his actions here,'' said Ms Kaur's advocate from Vision Australia, Brandon Ah Tong.
''But the system needs to change. All we're asking for is that a real person be assessed on what they can do.''
Ms Kaur was born in New Delhi with a degenerative condition that has left her legally blind, but she lives independently with her husband and five-month-old daughter Janiya, and works for Vision Australia. With a master's degree in social work and a specialty in aged care, Ms Kaur has skills that Australia's under-serviced aged care and disability sectors desperately need. Her mother, brother and in-laws live in Australia and she has no other immediate family in India.
Yet her application for permanent residency under the skilled migrant visa was rejected, first by the Immigration Department in 2009 and then by the Migration Review Tribunal in 2010 because her impairment would qualify her for a disability pension she doesn't want.
Ms Kaur's appeal was backed by several member of Parliament, by Vision Australia and other disability groups, and by a 2000-name petition.
''We've been hopeful but it's been such a rollercoaster ride,'' Ms Kaur said. ''For two years, you cannot make decisions, you cannot get credit, you cannot buy a house. I was worried, what will happen to my little one? Will I have to take her back?''
The regulations were condemned by Professor Ron McCallum, chairman of Vision Australia's board, as ''very old-fashioned''.
''They're based on the premise that if a disability is going to potentially cost money then we shouldn't admit the person. If I were seeking as a law professor to come here, I wouldn't be allowed in,'' he said.
"The tribunal should be allowed to weigh the cost against what that person or their family can contribute.''
Student illegally detained
An Indian student who paid thousands of dollars to study in Australia was illegally detained at the Villawood detention centre for 18 months because of mistakes by immigration officers, the Australian Human Rights Commissioner has found.
The commissioner, Catherine Branson, has found that Prashant Cherkupalli, 31, should be paid $597,000 in compensation for the 509 days he was illegally detained between November 2004 and April 2006.
Mr Cherkupalli, 31, who kept his ordeal secret from his family, is now suing the Commonwealth in the NSW Supreme Court for damages.
''I was ashamed to tell my parents. I came here to do something and ended up in prison. I spent thousands of dollars from my family,'' he said.
The detention caused him to miss classes and forfeit $57,000 in student fees. He has since graduated with a master of engineering degree from Sydney University.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has been told in writing of Ms Branson's finding, which is not binding. It comes after Immigration Department head Andrew Metcalfe warned that mandatory detention of asylum seekers had led to ''many people pursuing claims against the Commonwealth in relation to damage allegedly done to them as a result of being detained''.
Mr Metcalfe told a Senate hearing that a shift to community processing, and bridging visas with work rights, would ''significantly reduce'' the risk to taxpayers of big payouts.
Immigration Department figures show $10.2 million was paid out in compensation for unlawful immigration detention claims between January 2000 and August 2011.
A spokesman for Mr Bowen said 63 compensation claims from immigration detainees were filed in courts during this period, all relating to people detained under the Howard government. Of 33 payouts, the average was $309,000. There are 17 cases still before the courts.
It is not clear whether the figures include the high-profile cases of Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon - who reportedly received up to $4.5 million after being wrongly deported to the Philippines - and German-born Australian resident Cornelia Rau, who received $2.6 million for wrongful detention.
Mr Cherkupalli was taken to Villawood after being found working at a patisserie during an immigration raid in 2004, apparently in breach of the ''no work'' condition of his visa. It was his first day at the patisserie, as he was filling in for a friend unable to work the shift.
He was finally released from Villawood in 2006 and granted a bridging visa with work rights after the intervention of the Federal Magistrates Court. The department has conceded his visa cancellation was invalid.
Ms Branson found there was no justification for detaining Mr Cherkupalli because his clear intention was to continue his studies, not abscond.
Mr Cherkupalli, who suffers depression as a result of his ordeal, said studying was ''easy'' compared to the ''physical and mental stresses'' of being detained. ''I used the library a lot, read books. It's not easy being in prison,'' he said.
An Immigration Department spokesman said the department would respond to the commission's findings on the case by the end of this week.
Mr Cherkupalli would be allowed to remain in Australia until his NSW Supreme Court case was resolved, the spokesman said. A mediation hearing is scheduled for November.
Mr Cherkupalli believes he lost the opportunity to gain permanent residency in Australia because the time spent in detention meant he was too old when he applied after graduation. ''Everyone's aim after being a student is to get a job and settle down. I can't do that,'' he says.
Indian student's detention 'breached' migration rules
ABC CAF - AM
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is facing a $600,000 compensation bill over the wrongful detention of an Indian student.
Prashant Cherkupalli came to Australia to study for a masters degree in engineering but ended up spending nearly 18 months in south-western Sydney's Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.
Mr Cherkupalli was detained in late 2004 for working at a bakery in western Sydney without the correct visa.
"I came to Australia to get a job and get a permit and to settle down, but things have gone wrong for me and I ended up in detention, where I should not end up," Mr Cherkupalli said.
He ended up spending 509 days at Villawood.
"It's not easy, counting every day to get out from there and back on the studies and back on the job," Mr Cherkupalli said.
Mr Cherkupalli was released in April 2006 and he has remained in Australia since on bridging visas.
He lodged his case with the Australian Human Rights Commission, which released its findings earlier this month.
His lawyer, Tom Mithieux from Carroll and O'Dea Lawyers, says the detention breached the Migration Act.
"That detention was found by the Human Rights Commission to be an arbitrary detention," Mr Mithieux said.
"There have been recommendations made subsequently by the commission, including recommendations in relation to compensation and also some other recommendations including an apology."
The commission also found Mr Cherkupalli should be paid nearly $600,000 in compensation.
"It takes into account general damages, which is generally looking at the hurt and humiliation I suppose of being arbitrarily detained for that period of time. There is also some scope for past economic loss," Mr Mithieux said.
But the commission's recommendations are not binding on the Federal Government, and Mr Cherkupalli is still facing deportation.
Mr Mithieux says he should instead be granted permanent residency by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.
"There have been requests for ministerial intervention in the past. They have been rejected," he said.
"However in light of these findings... the Minister has again been called to intervene and to put Mr Cherkupalli in a position that he would have been but for this period of detention.
"Really that means giving him permanent residency."
The Immigration Department says it will respond to the commission's report by the end of the week.
Mr Cherkupalli's lawyers have also lodged a claim for unlawful imprisonment in the New South Wales Supreme Court.
Adelaide GP's battle with immigration over autistic son
Southern Times Messenger
An overseas doctor at the Hackham Medical Centre has had to leave his family in the Philippines for almost two years because the Immigration Department won't grant his autistic son a visa.
Dr Edwin Lapidario has spent 18 months and thousands of dollars in lawyers fees trying to have his wife and two sons join him in Australia.
His wife Cherryl and son Savion Nash, 2, were granted dependent visas in February 2009 but eldest son Sean Craig, 5, was refused because he has autism.
"I just want them to be here," Dr Lapidario told the Southern Times Messenger last week.
"My son needs me and my wife has no medical experience and it is really hard for her to cope.
"Whenever I talk with my wife over the internet, we cry every night."
Dr Lapidario moved to the southern suburbs in June 2008 to further his career. He said Sean did not show signs of autism before he left for Australia, and it was only detected when tests were undertaken as part of the visa process.
After Sean's initial visa application was refused, Dr Lapidario lodged an application for a long-term medical visa to have his son assessed in Australia but it was rejected this month.
Dr Lapidario flew home to the Philippines on Monday (March 22), where he will lodge an application for a short term medical visa. If this fails, he may be forced to return to the Philippines.
"I've got no choice. What is work if I have good pay here or good job here without my family?" he said.
"My family is the first one for me."
Hackham Medical Centre manager Pam Thorpe said one of the clinic's patients, Rob Pattison, had started a petition in a bid to have Sean granted a visa.
"It's just so frustrating what he has to go through," she said. "To try and get doctors is like trying to find a needle in a haystack."
Latest figures from General Practice Network South (GPNS) show Hackham, Hackham West and Huntfield Heights have has just one GP for every 3846 residents. An acceptable ratio is one to every 1408 residents.
GPNS chief executive Dr Helena Williams said it was critical governments supported international doctors and their families who were working in areas where there were GP shortages.
"It can be very difficult for practices to recruit GPs to work in some areas, both rural and metropolitan, so once they have been recruited we must invest in strategies to support them and their families to stay within that community," she said.
An Immigration Department spokesman said while the department was "sympathetic" to Dr Lapidario's situation, his son Sean "was assessed by a medical officer of the Commonwealth (MOC) as not meeting the health requirement on health and community cost grounds".
"The Department is required by law to abide by the findings of the MOC."
"It is long-standing Government policy that high cost medical conditions are a consideration in visa decisions," he said.
The spokesman said Australia's healthcare resources were "finite" and the Government had a responsibility to "help contain public expenditure and ensure Australian residents have access to health and community services". He said Dr Lapidario could apply for another temporary visa for his family involving a shorter stay or a different visa in which he would agree to cover the medical costs of his son.
Kingston MHR Amanda Rishworth (Labor) said her office had advised Dr Lapidario to apply for a short term medical visa and was writing a letter to the Immigration Department outlining his son's case.
Autism SA manager community relations Karl Zander said every person with an autism spectrum disorder was affected differently and some may have associated health issues.
"The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is not medical as it is a development disability and the diagnosis is based in three main areas, in deficits in communication, socialisation and repetitive and restrictive interests and behaviours."
Dr Lapidario's plight echoes the 2008 case of German-born Dr Bernhard Moeller who was refused permanent residency to settle in Horsham, Victoria because his son had Down Syndrome. Dr Moeller and his family were eventually granted permanent residency.
German doctor refused Australian visa
The immigration department has defended its decision to deny residency to a German doctor because his son is disabled.
Bernhard Moeller moved with his family to rural Horsham in Victoria two years ago to help fill a doctor shortage.
Dr Moeller has a temporary 457 visa which is valid until 2010, but has been denied permanent residency because his 13-year-old son, Lukas, has Down Syndrome.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) said Dr Moeller's application had been refused because Lukas did not meet the health requirement.
"A medical officer of the commonwealth assessed that his son's existing medical condition was likely to result in a significant and ongoing cost to the Australian community," a departmental spokesman said.
"Decisions by these medical officers are legally binding. The department must follow them."
The department stressed the decision was not discriminatory.
"A disability in itself is not grounds for failing the health requirement - it is a question of the cost implications to the community."
The health requirement contains spending on health and community services, he said.
"If we did not have a health requirement, the costs to the community and health system would not be sustainable."
Dr Moeller intends to appeal the decision to the Migration Review Tribunal.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans has no power to intervene in the case until such time as the tribunal or a court affirms the department's decision.
German doctor Bernhard Moeller appeals on residency snub
The Herald Sun
German migrant doctor Bernhard Moeller will lodge an appeal today against the decision to refuse his family residency in Australia because his son has Down syndrome.
The Moeller family's case made the front pages of German newspapers at the weekend, and Dr Moeller said Germany's largest TV network wanted to interview him.
The Department of Immigration refused the family residency because the taxpayer health costs of looking after Dr Moeller's son were considered significant.
Dr Moeller's MP, National John Forrest, has called for Immigration Minister Chris Evans and the department to fast-track the appeal.
Dr Moeller said he had been told it could take six months to be heard at the Migration Review Tribunal -- too long to leave his family in limbo.
He said his son, Lukas, 13, was aware of the controversy.
Dr Moeller is Horsham's only internal medicine specialist. He arrived in Australia almost three years ago.
Appeal blow for doctor with Down syndrome son
ABC News Online
A tribunal has refused the appeal of a western Victorian-based doctor being denied permanent residency because of his son's disability.
Dr Bernhard Moeller and his family have had their application for residency in Horsham refused because of the costs associated with the care of their son, who has Down syndrome.
The Member for Mallee, John Forrest, says the Migration Review Tribunal decided yesterday to support the controversial Department of Immigration decision.
He says the Minister for Citizenship, Chris Evans, will now be asked to intervene.
"The Minister's indicated on a number of occasions his willingness to consider the use of his powers," he said.
"He's recently done it in regard to a professional nurse in Australia and we are hopeful he will come good for the Moellers."
Dr Moeller is the only internal medicine specialist servicing 20,000 people in Horsham.
He says the result is a setback but he remains optimistic.
"I'm disappointed obviously and we all are very tired," he said.
"It's been a hard time for the whole family and we made it only because we had immense huge support here in the community and from around Australia, actually all over the world."
Statement by Senator Evans on Dr Bernhard Moeller
Senator Chris Evans
I was advised last night that Dr Moeller's appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal had been unsuccessful.
By law, the minister cannot intervene until such time a tribunal or Court upholds the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's decision to refuse a visa.
This morning I received a request from Dr Moeller that I intervene in the family's case and a short time ago, my office contacted Dr Moeller to advise him that I have granted permanent visas to the family.
Dr Moeller and his family are a compelling case. The family moved to Horsham in Victoria two years ago on a temporary skilled migration visa in response to the rural doctor shortage.
The family's application for permanent residency was refused by the department last month in accordance with the law after a Commonwealth medical officer assessed that Dr Moeller's 13-year-old son Lukas would incur significant public health and community care costs due to his Down Syndrome.
Where a Medical Officer of the Commonwealth has assessed a visa applicant as having a health condition that is likely to result in a significant cost to the Australian community or prejudice the access of Australians to health care or community services, the law requires that this decision must be accepted by the department.
As Minister I can take into account all the circumstances and it was clear to me that Dr Moeller and his family are making a very valuable contribution in their local community.
Dr Moeller is providing a much needed service in the area, the family have integrated well and have substantial community support, including of course from the Victorian Premier, the local member Mr Forrest and a range of parliamentarians.
Their continued presence and contribution in Australia will be beneficial and I am pleased that they have chosen to call Australia home.
I do wish to express my regret at the stress that this has caused Dr Moeller and his family and look forward to them becoming citizens of Australia.