Concerns Over Detention Spells For Visa Cancellations

Concerns over detention spells for visa cancellations

Guy Healy
The Australian
September 03, 2008

UNIVERSITIES, TAFE institutes, colleges and their agents are failing to adequately inform overseas students about the draconian implications of student visa cancellations, according to human rights and detainee advocates.

Immigration Detention Advisory Group member and detention health advisory group chairman Harry Minas, an associate professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Melbourne, told the HES universities had a duty to ensure overseas students “clearly understand the terms of their visa requirements and the consequences of not meeting any of those visa conditions”.

The comments follow revelations in The Australian last week, which have since widely been reported in India and China, that nearly 300 overseas students have been thrown into detention in Melbourne and Sydney in the past three years after falling foul of Australia's immigration laws.

One of the students, Motahar Hussein, formerly of Charles Sturt University, claimed to have spent almost three years in Villawood after missing an immigration notice because of a mix up over access to his postbox.

Tertiary and school students from 24 countries – mainly China, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia – were detained in the three years to March, with five overseas students still in detention, according to details obtained by The Australian under freedom of information laws.

Thirty-two higher education students breached their visas and were detained during this period, according to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

In addition, three postgraduate research students, 26 vocational education students, 10 school students and four English language students were also detained.

The HES has learned that one former university student from Bangladesh has been detained for almost three years.

One of the 27 Chinese nationals was detained for 371 days; one of three Vietnamese students was held for 161 days; one of four Indonesian students was held for 136 days; and one of the four Sri Lankan students was held for 77 days.

One of the 16 Indian students detained was held for 51 days, one of the eight Malaysian students was held for up to 56 days, two Pakistani students were held for 19 and 64 days, and one of the three Thai students was held for four days.

Professor Minas said he was surprised by the large number of students who had been detained and by the length of their detention.

It was unacceptable that students were being detained because they hadn't met their visa requirements, he said.

“There are other, less draconian ways of dealing with that, such as community detention, or a bridging visa until they leave, or assisting them to leave as soon as possible if the decision is made (that) they have to leave,” he said.

Referring to Immigration Minister Chris Evans's announcement in late July that detention would now be a last resort, Professor Minas said “one is entitled to hope these are issues of historical interest”.

A spokesman for Senator Evans told the HES that the federal Government's new detention policy took a risk-based approach to detention, which meant a person who posed no danger to the community would be able to remain in the community while their visa status was resolved.

Human rights advocate Frederika Steen asked: “Did tertiary authorities get involved with the 299 students who disappeared from their classes and were locked up in detention? Is it not part and parcel of the enrolment responsibilities andduty of care which accompany hefty fees?”