Illegal Immigrants Hope For Mercy From Minister

Illegal immigrants hope for mercy from minister

(Last chance … Fijian-born Sailesh Chandra with his Australian wife Michelle Singh and Australian-born daughters Angelica, 1, and Alyssa, 3, at their home at Warwick Farm. Photo: Jacky Ghossein)

Frank Walker
March 4, 2007
The Sydney Morning Herald

IMMIGRATION Minister Kevin Andrews is battling through a huge backlog of more than 500 immigration cases left unresolved by former minister Amanda Vanstone.

The delay has caused anxiety to hundreds of families awaiting a decision on whether a loved one can stay in Australia.

It has also lengthened stays in detention for hundreds of people being held on visa violations or seeking to be accepted as refugees.

In addition, dozens of cases flood in every week pleading with the new minister to overturn Senator Vanstone's decisions to expel people even though families would be broken up.

After a month in the difficult post of Immigration Minister, Mr Andrews appears to be intent on putting a more humane face on the job.

A spokeswoman said he regarded every case as “unique” and he assessed them on a “case by case basis”.

Mr Andrews's new approach will be tested by two cases in which his predecessor ruled to break up immigrant families by rejecting applications for permanent residency.

Fijian-born Sailesh Chandra, 29, has to leave his wife and two young Australian-born daughters within weeks after being rejected as a refugee by Senator Vanstone in January.

Mr Chandra, who fled Fiji in 2001 after the coup, said as an ethnic Indian he feared being attacked by native Fijians if he returned to Fiji.

“They beat me and my family in the coup of May 2000. They took away my family farm … the Australian Government wants to send me back to a military dictatorship,” he said. “How can the Government be so cruel to make my little girls lose their father?”

In 2002 the Refugee Review Tribunal rejected his plea for a protection visa, saying the situation for Indians in Fiji did not fit the definition of persecution. His legal appeal was eventually defeated in the High Court and the family's appeal to the Immigration Minister was their last chance. A spokeswoman for Mr Andrews has said he would review the case.

In another case, a Pakistani family faces deportation if their last attempt to gain permanent residency is rejected.

Rizwan Waquar, of Plumpton, said his sons Raza, 16, and Ali, 18, were struggling with the idea of leaving Australia. The teenagers also fear that they will be unable to visit the grave of their mother, who died here of a brain hemorrhage in January.

In 1990 Mr Waquar and his family moved from Pakistan to the US where he completed a master's degree in hydrogeology. The family moved to Australia in 1996 and have been on bridging visas since.

He had applied unsuccessfully for permanent residency eight times and lodged his ninth application last week.

A spokesperson for Mr Andrews said the department was reviewing the application.