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Elderly tourists on border control hit list

  • 08 December 2016


What does it take to secure room at Australia's inn? For the refugee, as we well know, it's virtually impossible, with a fraction of the many millions of displaced people in the world granted entry into this privileged country each year.

Those who immigrate here, like my own family did, must engage in an expensive and convoluted process in which fingerprints are taken, archives full of documents are produced and verified, blood is tested for HIV, lungs x-rayed for tuberculosis and children examined for physical or mental defects.

But the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection has now gone a step too far by subjecting a third group of people to its sustained program of suspicion and inhospitality: elderly tourists.

Earlier this year, as my South African mother-in-law started preparing for a Christmas visit with her Australian-based family, she found her attempts at obtaining a tourist visa thwarted at every turn. Though she's visited several times before and has never overstayed her visa, she discovered with some shock that her age (76) had somehow transformed her into a prime suspect for illegal migration to this country.

While obtaining a tourist visa to Australia has never been a straightforward process — bank statements have had to be produced, letters of invitation written — the level of contempt and interrogation she endured this time came as a rude shock to us all.

Not in possession of a computer, nor the skill that would enable her to use one, she was unable to initiate her application, which could only be done online via the Australian Visa Application Centre in Cape Town. A kind and patient family member helped her out.

My mother-in-law's application was duly submitted. Thereafter followed three months' worth of preposterous correspondences from the centre, each one demanding she produce yet another piece of evidence: the letter of invitation and her bank statement proving she had money at her disposal; an unabridged birth certificate (which had to be applied for through a South African government bureau); evidence of her travel history and proof of travel insurance; an assurance from her son — my husband — that he would support her financially during her six-week stay; evidence of her intention to return to South Africa; a medical certificate from an Australian government-approved doctor in Cape Town stating that she was medically fit to fly; and finally, and most audacious of all, the title deeds to her house.