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Between the Department of Immigration and a hard place

  • 06 February 2009
For three-year-old Sanara, justice is a big word and an even bigger concept. In the past six months Sanara's mother and grandmother have both attempted suicide and her grandmother has recently been diagnosed with a secondary cancer. 

Her family has no income, cannot access Medicare and relies on a few charities to provide food, clothing and housing. Each family member receives $33 per week from Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project, to spend on basic necessities.

Sanara and her family are stuck between systems. Their care seems to be no-one's responsibility. When Sanara's mother was admitted to hospital for the second time, the hospital staffer responded by saying, 'this is an immigration matter, not ours'. Yet when a Department of Immigration official heard Sanara's story she accused the family of using the threat of suicide as a way of manipulating the Minister for Immigration.

Justice for Sanara's family has become a point of debate. For some justice demands the removal of the family back to their homeland. For others it demands that it be given the chance to make a home in Australia. For a few it demands that Sanara and her family receive health care and basic services in order to help them to accept the reality that they must return to their country of origin.

For Sanara it is relatively simple. Whatever the outcome of her immigration status, she wants food in her belly more than once a day, a house that is safe and secure, and for her mother and grandmother to get the help they need today. But none of her desires is granted.

Raimond Gaita has claimed that justice must be founded on a recognition of our common humanity and the understanding that every human life is precious. He argues that the application should incorporate a space of listening that treats everyone with respect.

This view of justice has interesting implications for asylum seekers and former asylum seekers in Australia. Certainly it argues that Sanara and her family are not justly treated. Not only the deprivation of an income and of adequate health care, nor just the poverty of the situation or the distress of the family, but also their deeper deprivation of identity, of dignity, and of common humanity, show that they are being unjustly treated.

Is this fair? Does fairness apply only to those who have progressed to a certain point vis-a-vie their status in the