Australia: incarceration and expulsion of resident immigrants
But victories are possible against this brutal system
Derek Mortimer, Sydney
Australia, one of the richest countries in the world with a landmass far exceeding that of the UK and Europe combined, and with a population of 24 million, is expelling resident immigrant families who have lived in the country for years because they are a “burden” on the taxpayer.
The right wing coalition government of the Liberal Party and National Party were denying permanent residency to the Wangchuks, a Bhutanese family of four, living in Queanbeyan, close to the national capital, Canberra, because one of their children, Kinley, is deaf.
The family came to Australia in 2012 so the mother, Jangchu, could take up a scholarship to study in Melbourne.
“I know my son is deaf, but it’s not that he’s going to incur a huge amount of spending of taxpayers’ money,” Jangchu Wangchuk told Guardian Australia. “He uses a hearing aid and he never has any ongoing treatment or medication or anything….he just goes for a yearly hearing test, that’s it. It’s not that someone has to take care of him, he’s quite independent”
David Randall, a retired teacher from Melbourne, met the family when he was a teacher for the deaf at Kinley’s school, and advocated for them to stay in the country. He started a petition in support of the family which has gained over 50,000 signatures.
Kinley and his 17-year-old brother Tenzin are in high school, Jangchu and their father Tshering work in care, with children and the elderly respectively. “They’re both trained nurses but their qualifications aren’t recognised here,” said Randall, and are working, paying taxes and able to support Kinley. “No one who meets Kinley sees him as a burden. They see him as a contributing member of the population. He’s cooperative, keen to learn, friendly, sharing and caring.”
Mr Randall said the family had gained support from the United Voice union(1) as both parents are members, as well as the Students Union and national groups working with disabled and ethnic communities. There had been wide media coverage of the case as a result. All this served to put Government Ministers under pressure.
The Wangchuk family and their supporters were successful in their fight against deportation and have now won permanent residency. David Randall said “The family is ecstatic and greatly relieved that they now have a secure future in Australia. Parents Tshering and Jangchu will continue to provide for their sons both will be able to continue their education uninterrupted.”
Others may not be so lucky, without similar hard fought campaigns. Geraldine and Geofrey Custodio, have lived and worked in the small remote town of Bell, Queensland, with their four children since 2014. They are described by locals as, “a model family.” Ms Custodio works as a Teachers’ Aide at Bell school and runs a small takeaway cafe. Her husband, a vet, has a key role in a breeding programme at one of the region’s piggeries where he trains other farm workers. However they are now facing deportation because their 11–year-old-son, Gain, has autism, and, like Kinley Wangchuck, is said to be a “cost” to the taxpayer.
A petition, coincidentally launched on World Autism Awareness Day, was created by Joanne Rodney, an English teacher and a colleague of Geraldine’s school. Ms Rodney said she created the petition out of a “sense of injustice”. She was quoted on SBS, the national broadcaster, saying, “As a teacher, I have been able to utilise their different skills for Book Week and Harmony Day, and to present on science topics and other things”.
Christine and Anthony Hyde, from Ireland, and who have lived in the regional Victorian town of Seymour for 10 years face deportation because their three-year-old boy Darragh was born with cystic fibrosis. The families have appealed to the Immigration Minister, David Coleman, to reverse the decision.
The planned deportations have outraged colleagues, union members and friends who have flocked to their support with rallies and online petitions which have gathered thousands of signatures. Christine Hyde said in her petition that Darragh has been doing extremely well considering his condition. “We have positive letters from his doctors and specialist stating that he should live a full life and that his disease progression will be much slower than average.” Darragh has every chance of going to university and having a successful career, she said. Ms Hyde has a Masters in Special Education, has worked as a school teacher and is now an Acting Assistant Principal. Her husband works part-time as a bus driver.
The government is saying to both migrants and asylum seekers that no matter what they do they will never be secure in Australia. They are treated as producers and consumers, not workers who are the backbone of society and deserve the best that life can offer. The inhuman treatment by the coalition government, is supported by the Labor Party
The government has ‘stopped the boats’ that brought immigrants fleeing persecution and wars to Australia by incarcerating them in off-shore detention centres – in reality prison camps – on the Pacific islands of Nauru, and Manus, with no chance ever of settlement in mainland Australia. Conditions on Nauru are so appalling that even the man who negotiated with the Australia government on the camps has described them as “torture”.
They are left to rot, succumbing to disease, despair, self-harm, and suicide — or to return to the country they have fled. (See Behrouz Boochani’s first- hand account in his award winning book, No Friend but the Mountain). Forty-five people have died in detention centres since 2010, 24 of them suicides. 14 of the deaths were on Manus Island or Nauru. Since 2012 over $5 billion has been spent on the two islands camps, making mockery of the alleged cost “burden” on tax payers for medical treatment of Australian residents from migrant backgrounds.
1 United Voice is an organisation of over 120,000 Australian workers. Its membership are from diverse races, genders and ages, from every State and Territory.