Longest-Serving Detainee Still In Limbo

Longest-serving detainee still in limbo

By Bonny Symons Brown
The Australian Associated Press, May 12, 2010

The case of Australia's longest-serving detainee shows no signs of being resolved, the immigration ombudsman has found.

The woman, referred to in public documents as Ms X, has been in detention for more than nine years.

In October 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) found her extended period of detention, without any substantive judicial review, was arbitrary.

On that basis, it concluded Australia had breached the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The UNHCR also warned that if Ms X was deported – without China promising not to harm her – Australia risked another breach of its international obligations.

The Attorney-General's department is now preparing a response to the findings, which the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) believes could influence their impending submission to Immigration Minister Chris Evans on the woman's case.

The submission, which will eventually outline options for resolving Ms X's immigration status, has been delayed while DIAC continues to seek assurances from China that she won't be killed or hurt if sent there.

In his latest report, Commonwealth and Immigration Ombudsman John McMillan said it was not clear why intervention to release Ms X from detention, if only temporarily, should hinge on China providing these assurances.

Professor McMillan pointed to the fact that, in similar cases of long-term detainees wanted for crimes in China, DIAC had failed to get these commitments anyway.

'DIAC has not indicated why it believes that Ms X's case will be resolved within a reasonable time,' he stated.

'Ms X is unlikely to be removed from Australia and is unlikely to be released from detention while there is no active submission before the minister.

'The ombudsman again recommends that the minister grant Ms X an appropriate visa.'

In another case, Professor McMillan found DIAC's investigation of an asylum seeker's background was deficient and had led to his prolonged detention.

A third case, where a detainee's mental health issues had been overlooked by DIAC, also concerned the ombudsman.

Senator Evans said he would ask his department to investigate.