Warning: I’m ‘blogging’ mad!!!!
Every now and then I check my rage levels against the Howard Government to ensure I’m not reacting disproportionately by drawing comparisons with Nazi Germany, Apartheid South Africa and Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles’. But today, I’m left in no doubt that these labels are apt: this is a government that perpetrates and perpetuates injustice.
The reason for my surety is the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching story of Tony Tran, broken by ABCTV’s, Lateline, last night. Mr Tran and his family now stand with Vivian Solon, Cornelia Rao and Mohamad Haneef as victims of the Howard Government’s xenophobic, unjust and abusive immigration policies and the incompetent department which administers them.
Tony Tran was a Vietnam War refugee who grew up in America before making his home in Australia with his Korean wife. Having settled in Brisbane, he was an ambitious man with plans for higher education and business. But his dreams morphed into a horrible nightmare the morning in December, 1999 when he went to the Department of Immigration to inquire about obtaining a visa for his wife. A computer check mistakenly indicated Mr Tran did not himself have a valid visa and he was immediately handcuffed and carted off into detention without an opportunity to talk to his wife or say goodbye to his young son. He remained behind bars for five and a half years – being transferred between facilities in four states - until a review of detainees, in the wake of the Rao and Solon scandals, revealed he’d been the victim of a bureaucratic bungle.
But during those five years in detention he lost everything. His wife. His child. His health. Tony Tran’s wife, also threatened with detention along with their then two year old son Hai, succumbed to Immigration Department pressure and agreed to be deported to Korea. In order to convince the Korean government to take their child as well, the Australian Government changed the little boy’s name from Tran to a Korean family name. This was done without the knowledge or consent of Mr Tran. He was told he’d lost his family by an Immigration Department official when they’d already left the country.
Not surprisingly, the impact of that news was devastating: “When they taken my child, that's when everything just collapsed for me mentally and physically. I thought I lost them. I thought I'd never see him again. Because I don't even know how my life is going to end.” Mr Tran told Lateline. He said he was medicated in detention from that day on as his mental health deteriorated. Meanwhile, his wife wasn’t coping and she returned to Australia, abandoning their son. He was placed in foster care and when the child welfare agency responsible for the boy requested he be allowed to join his father in detention in the Immigration Department refused. The child was placed in foster care and the Department refused to facilitate Mr Tran's attendance at Children’s Court hearings involving the boy. Meantime, in an attempt to secure Hai's deportation to Korea, Immigration officials lied to an immigration agent, telling her Tony Tran didn’t care about his son. They then left the five year old boy with Korean welfare workers and sought to have him declared an orphan as revealed in this excerpt from a letter obtained by Lateline: “My purpose in writing to you is to request that, as the child is a Korean national, the Korean Consulate arrange for the return of the child to Korea in coordination with the Health and Welfare Agency in Seoul”
Again, Tony Tran’s legal rights regarding his child’s welfare were over-ridden by the Australian Government. He managed to maintain phone contact with his son but he threatened suicide when the Department refused to allow him to send a photograph of himself to the little boy. They finally agreed to send the picture to Hai when his father stood on the roof of the Baxter detention centre and threatened to jump.
But in June 2005, after five and a half years in prison, Mr Tran was suddenly released without explanation. The reason? The department had discovered, courtesy of the system-wide case review triggered by the Solon and Rao incidents, that he had indeed held a valid visa all along. By now his wife had returned to Korea and her whereabouts remain unknown. But, Tony Tran was finally reunited with Hai, who had been severely traumatized by the long separation from his father and had nightmares that he’d be abandoned again. “That's very heartbreaking actually. Even when I got him back, every night he will have nightmare. Even when he's asleep, his hand will twirl around just to feel if I was there and he'll wake up and pinch my skin whether to see it's real or not. And then after that he'll go back to sleep again. Everyday I told him that I will always be here,” Tony Tran told Lateline. He is also battling his own nightmares – he emerged from prison with depression, a heart condition, asthma and injuries from being brutally bashed and stabbed by another inmate.
I’d like to tell you that, recognizing their mistake, the Government immediately apologized to the Trans and compensated them accordingly. But you should know by now that the Howard government doesn’t say sorry and it fights just compensation cases tooth and nail. So Tony Tran – rendered stateless by the Immigration Department bungle – is still fighting for the right to stay in Australia and he hasn’t seen a cent from the government. Instead, he’s surviving on charity in Melbourne. But he’s not giving up – amazingly, inspiringly, he’s studying for a radiology degree while caring for Hai, now aged 8. “When you ask me how do I feel, I don't really know what to feel. I just want to, most of the time, just want to be secluded, just want to be myself for now. For me my main focus is, like, my son. To hope that he can grow up and lead a normal life. For me, I'm trying as well. It's not easy but I'm trying as well.”
As Tran continues his remarkable struggle to survive this nightmare, his lawyers have begun civil proceedings in the Victorian Supreme Court for compensation after two years of failed negotiations with the Federal Government. If the case is successful, it’s likely to involve the biggest immigration-related payout in history and another action will be launched on behalf of Hai. Tran’s lawyers are hoping going public with the story in the middle of the Federal Election campaign will result in a pre-Christmas settlement. But this is a heartless government with an obscene track record on immigration and refugee issues - Tampa…Children Overboard…Rao…Solon…Haneef…Tran. I could go on and on. And, sadly, Howard’s racist and inhumane immigration and refugee policies have proved to be vote winners in the past. That may explain the government’s failure to respond to the story and the Labor Opposition’s disappointing silence on the matter, but it is no excuse for populism on either side of politics.
To quote barrister and human rights advocate, Julian Burnside QC, “Can we afford to watch complacently as unpopular minorities are mistreated, or does our indifference identify who we are? This election is not just an opportunity to hold the present government to account for ignoring justice. It is an opportunity to take a stand and say: We are better than this. Australia is not just an economy.” Indeed, it used to be a country that defined itself through identification with equity, fairness and multiculturalism. Australians must take a stand for justice – at the polling booth and in the community - for the sake of our collective soul.
Note: You can vodcast the Lateline story about Tony Tran here and you can podcast Julian Burnside’s Perspective monologue on justice from ABC Radio National here. [read more]
13 November, 2007
Warning: I’m ‘blogging’ mad!!!!
Posted by J-scribe at 9:49 pm