Asylum seeker's long wait for judgement day

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Finally he is having his day in court. After 13 months languishing in limbo in immigration detention, he has been given the opportunity to be heard. Hopefully, it won't be long now before his case is determined and his torment resolved.

Hands in handcuffsOr so I originally thought. But in today's Australia, asylum seekers are not treated the same way as you or me. Not only must they not commit a criminal offence, but 'all adult illegal maritime arrivals' have to sign a strict code of behaviour, which describes the high standards they are expected to maintain at all times.

It expressly stipulates, for example, that they not 'engage in any anti-social or disruptive activities that are inconsiderate, disrespectful or threaten the peaceful enjoyment of other members of the community'. An ostensible breach, no matter how minor, can lead to the cancellation of their bridging visa and indefinite detention.

His trial date was set long ago. For months he has been agonising over its possible outcome. At the same time, he knows he is one of the lucky ones. Having 'arrived illegally by boat' in late 2012, at least his protection visa application is well under way — unlike later arrivals who have no chance of receiving such an invitation at all.

Moreover, assessed as 'exceptionally vulnerable', he has been fortunate enough to qualify for legal funding. His supporters — friends he made while living in the community or those, like me, who visit him regularly in detention — have cobbled together a suit, shirt and tie, belt and shoes, for his court appearance, replacing his detention centre standard-issue attire of tracksuit or t-shirt and shorts.

He scrubs up well, I think, when I see him for the first time — not as originally planned in the courtroom itself, but in the bowels of the building where, handcuffed and accompanied by two immigration detention centre guards, he has been confined for the second day in a row to a tiny cold cell behind glass.

I stand cramped with another supporter in the doorway, as his solicitor attempts to comfort him, assuring him that permission has been sought from the judge to allow him to come upstairs. After all, he is technically out on bail.

At least he is now in the courthouse. That morning as I rushed to meet him at the appointed time, he had called me from the detention centre. Apparently, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection had not notified the centre authorities that he was expected in court that day and so no provision had been made to drive him there.

 

"The protections provided by Australian law do not apply to immigration detainees, even if they have not been convicted of a crime."

 

His barrister having successfully obtained an adjournment to the afternoon, he is eventually accorded the dignity of sitting in the courtroom like a human being. But there is another problem: his lawyers have not even had the opportunity to confer with their client face-to-face until now.

In a humane gesture, the judge offers them the use of the courtroom, retiring to his chambers until they are ready to proceed. The rest of the day passes in a flurry of discussion — everyone is aware that the precious days allotted to his court case are fast slipping away. If a way forward is not agreed upon soon, a new trial date will need to be found, which, given the busy court schedule, would mean a delay until some time next year, while he continues to wait in detention.

By the end of the afternoon, a resolution has still not been reached and it is agreed that he will need to be brought back to court for a third day. His lawyers appeal directly to the guards that tomorrow he be escorted to the courtroom as the judge has requested, rather than confined to a cell.

'You will need to put your request in writing,' comes the reply. Despite the lawyers' insistence that they have sent countless such email requests, it is apparent that unless the judge's instruction is clearly stipulated, the all-powerful Immigration Department may choose not to comply. After all, the protections provided by Australian law do not apply to immigration detainees, even if they have not been convicted of a crime.

Meanwhile like any accused, it has not been easy to live with his fate hanging in the balance. For him, however, the stakes are even higher. While he knows he can only ever be granted a temporary protection visa, the court case has introduced yet another uncertainty. How will it affect his chances of being allowed to stay, if only for a relatively short while?

Only time will tell. For now, all he can do is wait.

 


Shira SebbanShira Sebban is a Sydney writer and editor, passionate about exploring the challenges life throws at us through her writing. A former journalist, she previously taught French and worked in publishing.

Topic tags: Shira Sebban, asylum seekers


 

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Existing comments

I am angry, impotently angry, ashamed and deeply saddened at what my country is doing to people fleeing persecution. How is it that we have put such stone-hearted men in charge of caring for the beleagured people who make it to our part of the world? How is it that private school, a law degree and a job in politics creates such savage, inhumane people? I am 80, disabled, and the sole surviving member of my family. My children live overseas. like those we torment. I experience in a tiny way what asylum seekers do. Shame on us for choosing to treat them like cattle. Put the cattle prods down and offer welcome and succour, for they are not cattle, but one of us.
Lois Walker | 19 October 2016


An excellent article that should not be left to stand alone. Perhaps I speak for many who support asylum seekers and refugees when I say for myself, that I am frustrated to nausea by the seemingly impenetrable political stone walls which render all supportive comment ineffectual.
Ian Fraser | 19 October 2016


Sickening. We are a sick nation. How will we ever heal?
Janet | 19 October 2016


For me, this and Monday night's "Four Corners" top three years of the absolute worst behaviour by the Tony Abbott and Malcolm Abbott Governments and their instrumentalities. Three years of very deliberate vilification, persecution and mistreatment of scapegoat groups that the public can most easily be taught to love to hate. And mostly not out of intellectual or even emotional conviction, but the most cynical and blatant grab for wedge domination of the media cycle and the votes of the most disaffected. And Labor can't assume the moral high ground either; rather than taking moral stands, they decided they couldn't beat them, so they just joined them instead. I can honestly and emphatically say that in my 59 years I have never been so ashamed of my country. It is hard to believe this country of "mates" and the "fair go", of a healthy cynicism towards authority and political manipulation, of a formerly international reputation for tolerance and acceptance of diversity, could sink to such depths.
PaulM | 19 October 2016


Inhumane, intolerable, deplorable and evil.
Val | 19 October 2016


I'm heart broken to read this. What has become of us? What has become of us?
fiona dodds | 19 October 2016


Lois and Ian have made important points; like Ian I too am constantly confounded by wilfully deaf politicians who, when approached in public spaces such as at election time, are obdurate in their refusal to discuss asylum seekers and I have long despaired at trying to engage ministers and local representatives through correspondence. I have also been confused for a long time over the question Lois raises; how is it that educated people from the most fortunate levels of society can behave so cruelly? Does anyone doubt that our politicians and public servants, if they saw a child battered and bleeding on the side of the road, would not immediately rush to the child’s assistance? Yet these same people can devise and prosecute refugee policy that condemns children and their parents to a prison out of sight where they will suicide, inflict injury on themselves and sink into insanity. These public officials are not stupid, they know full well what the consequences of their behaviour is. Yet still they persist. How can that be? It is beyond my comprehension.
Paul | 19 October 2016


For all those who claim we have ever been better or different to this I suggest you watch what happened to Yvonne Berry, a white cop in Ballarat, arrested and tortured by other woman cops for being drunk.
Marilyn | 19 October 2016


I am appalled. At the treatment. Refugees are. Having to go through its despicable. And those in government need to be in jail. So much for Christian Government. shame shame shame
Irena mangone | 20 October 2016


As an NZer I'm absolutely horrified at how these people are treated in Australia. To risk travelling in a small boat across the sea experiencing gigantic waves at times is something so horrific. To take such a risk there must be huge problems in their own countries or who would take such a risk? I just am so horrified by the stories of the treatment of these people. Has Australia returned to the dtimes of the convicts who were horribly treated?
Anne Odogwu | 21 October 2016


Thank you, Shira, for alerting the rest of us to the nastiness of the way asylum seekers are treated in accord with Government policy. Just one more instance of the inhumanity which makes many of us ashamed to be Australian.
Geoff Seaman | 22 October 2016


My husband and I have had a similar experience supporting a 19yr old mainland detention detainee through the court system. (he had already spent 18nonths on Christmas Is as a UAM) Being granted a good behaviour order by the court did not matter to the Dept of Immigration. Our friend was to remain in detention indefinitely. His mental anguish at ongoing detention, self harming etc. influenced his decision to sign to return to Afghanistan. He told us that he was prepared to face death with the Taliban rather than this slow torture and deteriorating mental state that he was facing in our detention centres. We haven't heard from him since he returned to Afghanistan a month a go. Neither have his friends. Such young beautiful people, living in such a fear state, created by adults, is a cause for advocacy.
Maureen Flanagan | 23 October 2016


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