I just realised it was way back on December 18th I said I would look at some of the other aspects of the battle to date. The bits where I felt there were flaws. Flaws is a gentle way of describing some of the stuff that went wrong and, I suggest, can and will go wrong again in the future for others.
When an asylum seeker first arrives in this country, they are usually detained. In conditions that are not always pleasant. This link is to a comment of my own, but there is plenty in the media to describe the conditions. Then there are time limits, very short ones, to lodge your initial claim for protection.
I understand that we want to have these claims for protection lodged quickly. To suggest we can have strangers running around the nation with no formal right to be here is neither sensible nor practical. We most certainly have to have a system in place to determine the validity of claims, identify people, perform medical checks and all the other “stuff” that goes with dealing with refugees and asylum seekers. According to the UN, technically, a person is an asylum seeker until a claim for protection is accepted, at that point the person becomes a refugee.
Here I am looking at what happened to one man. I am not examining the overall system, but I do suggest that if one falls through the cracks others will have in the past and more will in the future.
There is little time provided to prepare the initial claim. If, as in my husband’s case, the person is not well at the time, this compounds the problem. What stands out in my mind about my husband’s case is the diabolical combination of specific factors.
He had never been detained before. After several years already spent wandering the globe, this was something that scared him greatly.
He was on suicide watch and medicated.
A supplied lawyer comes to take a statutory declaration. My husband had no idea what was required, the lawyer seemed to be in a hurry: “I don’t have much time”. John gave the information he gave under pressure to “hurry up”.
He was in a strange country, no understanding of the culture; in fact not even an understanding that the culture was so radically different to his own.
No interpreter. That a person can speak English does not mean they are proficient in English. That they come from a country where the official language is English does not mean that person is proficient in English.
To illustrate the sort of misunderstandings that occurred, let us fast forward to early 2010 (nearly two years after my husband’s arrival in early 2008) and I was speaking to an Australian official about his case. I was asked did I know how many children he had, because when that official had spoken to my husband, it wasn’t clear. If how many children he has, something so simple, was not clearly understood by officials of Australia, how can we have confidence anything more complex was understood? The man had been here nearly two years and we still hadn’t worked out how many children he has? I use this example specifically because it is not hearsay: I was having the conversation myself. It is not something my husband has told me, or anyone else has relayed. That was one of my direct, personal experiences with his case.
I have a few questions relating to that. How could we not manage to understand how many children a man has? If we were in doubt about whether we had understood, why were we not able to clarify? Ask the question again, phrase it differently, ask the subject to repeat the answer? Ask him to hold up a number of fingers, forgoodness sake! It shouldn’t be that hard!
Back to the original statutory declaration. I would like to point out that it took me hours and hours to accurately document my husband’s history. That was AFTER he had been here nearly two years and his English had improved as a result. That was after I had spent some time getting to know him so we were better able to communicate accurately. Even then, with a document 14 pages long and over 7,000 words, the history is not complete. We never got it completed properly due to the removal. I’ve seen that first statutory declaration. It is not my husband’s history.
Again, as mentioned on December 18th, I draw attention to the difference in social structure which should be understood by Australian professionals in the field. I do not expect all of our employees to be CQ experts, but if working in this field they should have enough training to be mindful enough to know when to call in someone with a higher skill level. We are not a third world country, it is not as if we can’t afford to adequately train our staff to meet the practical requirements of their roles.
Also, we outsource certain tasks, such as the taking of that initial statutory declaration. It is not appropriate that we be placing asylum seekers under pressure by saying things like “I don’t have much time, we have to hurry”. We need to be mindful of the asylum seeker’s mental health at the time we take such statements. When contracting outsourced resources, we need to ensure the training of those workers is suitable for the environment and clients with which they will be working. We have a responsibility to our fellow-man.
There are many ways of abusing someone’s human rights. It doesn’t have to be as direct as a gun to the head. It can be subtle. Placing people under undue pressure, ignoring their current state of mental health, not ensuring we have the full story, seeing them as simply another signature on a form to enable us to bill the $1,500 fee to the government: all these things, especially if brought together in the one case, can amount to abuse of human rights.
Yes, I acknowledge, this is my view: I know it is also the view of many others who work in the area of asylum seeker advocacy, as witnessed by comments made elsewhere on this website. I also acknowledge you can hit me with a charge of bias given we are, after all, talking about my husband’s specific case. I remind the reader that when I first met my husband, he was not my husband. I was just trying to help. My assessment of the handling of his case was formed before I fell in love, so please pull back that charge of bias just a notch or two!
In my husband’s case, the bottom line was that the initial statutory declaration was manifestly incomplete. It was also inaccurate. Yet, later, when my husband tried to correct the situation he was effectively accused of changing “his story”. I object to the use of the word story; “history” is a much more accurate word to use. “Story” carries implications of the narration being just that: a story.
A person’s history is not a story, it is their history. Unless it can be proven false, then history is the correct word to use.