Letters for 247 wrongfully held in detention centres
The Age (Melbourne)
July 3, 2007
IMMIGRATION authorities are writing to 247 men, women and children explaining why they were wrongly held in Australia's detention centres after yet another damning investigation into Immigration Department practices.
Many of the letters' recipients are likely to receive compensation from the department.
Ombudsman John McMillan said yesterday it was inexcusable that frequent mistakes by department officers resulted in 226 Australian citizens, permanent residents and lawful visa holders spending time in detention between 1993 and 2007.
Another 21 cases of wrongful detention were dealt with in Professor McMillan's earlier reports.
Those wrongly detained included Cornelia Rau, a mentally ill Australian resident, whose case for compensation will be heard today by the NSW Supreme Court.
Another was Vivian Alvarez Solon, an Australian citizen wrongfully deported to the Philippines in 2001.
The public uproar that followed the emergence of their cases sparked an investigation by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer and a follow-up examination by the Ombudsman.
Professor McMillan said the loss of freedom through detention could have grave consequences for the individuals involved and their families. “There should be nothing short of a careful and lawful exercise of the power to detain a person. Unfortunately this was not the case in the majority of these matters.
“It is inexcusable that there were such frequent errors leading to the detention of people who had a lawful right to live in the community.”
Professor McMillan acknowledged that the department had accepted his recommendations and, over the past two years, made significant headway in its reform process.
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said he was pleased to note the Ombudsman's “praise” for the department.
Mr Andrews said a special team had been formed within the department to examine each case and decide what action should be taken and whether compensation should be paid.
“The department is writing to each of the 247 individuals advising them of the Ombudsman's reports and the review of their case that is being undertaken by the department,” Mr Andrews said.
Professor McMillan said he would monitor the way the department dealt with individual cases and its progress in dealing with systemic issues.