More paperwork as time runs out
This is an edited excerpt from Love versus Goliath. While I have permission, pending their review of the manuscript, to use the names of our support team, we are not yet at that point, so I have removed the names. I have also removed the names of the children (as I always do when publishing on the web) and edited out some information I do not yet wish to publish. At this point in the timeline we were waiting to hear if DIAC would appeal our win at the MRT.
DIAC = Department of Immigration and Citizenship, MRT = Migration Review Tribunal
April the 5th we finally heard something. We needed to provide MORE documents!
- Original/certified copies of John’s Bangladeshi and Indian police clearances.
- Original Nigerian police clearance in respect of Miss O 1 (because she is over 16).
- John’s wife also needs to complete and sign the attached consent form. It needs to be witnessed by a person listed on the form and must be provided along with a copy of her passport/ID (according to the Department the original consent letter was not certified).
- Evidence of repayment or acceptable payment arrangements of John’s $1,400.00 debt to the Commonwealth. Contact details for arranging repayment are included in the letter.
We had 49 days to get all this together and back to the Pretoria office. In most Western countries, 49 days wouldn’t be a problem. On the continent of Africa, 49 days is very touch and go. The deadline was May 13. The letter requesting this information was dated March 23: sent snail mail it had arrived in Australia on April 5th. We had lost 12 days already. (Note: this 12 days was not in fact DIAC’s fault, they had not been instructed to communicate electronically: I address this elsewhere in the book.)
The Indian Police Clearance wasn’t a problem, we had that and had emailed Pretoria a scanned copy, we just hadn’t sent the original as it was never asked for (due to a denial being in process, obviously).
A Police Clearance for Miss O 1 could be arranged with the wonderful help of John’s step-mother. I was to find out later Miss O 1 was terrified, as she had never been near the police before!
The $1,400 was a shock, as I had dealt with that debt the month before, or so I thought. The Bangladeshi police clearance turned into another small saga.
The biggest problem here was the consent form to be signed by John’s ex-wife. We both hated that she had to be put through all this again. Here was a mother essentially giving up her children because of circumstance and she had already signed documents and spoken to DIAC back in August/September 2010. Now we were going to put her through all that pain again. John was of the belief her new partner, the father of the new baby, did not like John having any contact with his ex-wife at all, so any contact was always through a long string of relatives. This was problematic at best. John never knew exactly where she was, so he had to try to locate her first.
I was angry. Why the hell was this “form” not available on the website to have been completed the first time around? Why did we have to put this poor woman through this pain again? It didn’t even have a damn logo on it, it was a very unofficial looking form. I commented to [lawyer] that had we submitted such a dodgy looking form originating from Nigeria to the Australian authorities, the Australian authorities would have claimed it was a fake document. John’s birth certificate had been considered non-genuine and this form looked a whole lot less official to me!
There was no template for the letter of permission. The last thing we wanted was to draft the required letter, go through the trauma of getting it signed, then have DIAC reject it because the wording wasn’t deemed appropriate.
I drafted a letter and ran it past [lawyer]’s office. I was given the all-clear on the wording and emailed it to John, together with the form, to go through the process of getting it signed.
I had so desperately wanted my family home before our wedding anniversary – now that looked very unlikely, although we could still hope. That night I shed a lot of tears in poor [psychologist]’s office. Under normal circumstances more documents may not be much, but under our circumstances this was a difficult and expensive exercise: if even possible. Yes, I had expected notification of a visa grant, not a request for more documents. After all I’d been through, I was still naive.
This is a classic example of what the “system” does to a person. Notice the timing – the day before I was stressed to the max because as far as I could tell the 28 days was up and we had heard nothing. Something arrives the very next morning and now I was stressed for different reasons – we had more paper warfare to get through.
John didn’t realise just how stressed I really was because naturally I tried to hide that from him – he had enough stress of his own to cope with, he didn’t need mine as well. With us both stressed to the max, that day we came the closest we had ever come to exchanging cross words – we didn’t, but both of us knew we were close. It is so hard to communicate about legal documents over phone lines that are not clear and that drop out. Pretty much we no longer had a language barrier, hadn’t had one for a long time: just every now and then when discussing new stuff, words have different meanings and we would confuse each other. Plus I was asking him to remember more detail about something that happened three years ago – good grief, I couldn’t remember what happened to me three years ago!
When John had been in detention in Australia he had applied for and received a police clearance from Bangladesh. The original had been given to DIAC as part of his protection visa claims. We had submitted a copy with the spouse visa application, stating DIAC had the original. Now we were being asked for the original. I was trying to get John to remember who he had given that piece of paper to. The DIAC Case Manager? A detention centre employee or guard? A government appointed lawyer? Who? Of course, after all he had been through, he could not for the life of him remember exactly who he gave it to.
Where was I going to direct DIAC to find this bloody original police clearance? I believed it was me that had to locate it (after all, John couldn’t really, could he?). I should have asked [lawyer]’s office first, but I was trying desperately to incur minimal additional legal fees. I called John’s protection visa Case Manager. I believed he would be best placed to assist me in finding a police clearance related originally to John’s protection visa case.
The Case Manager, who was very helpful, asked me to follow-up with an email confirming my request, so I did. I will never understand why, but my request was then forwarded to Pretoria and had suddenly become about John’s Australian Federal Police clearance. I got the following response from Pretoria dated April 11.
We have checked the departmental systems and noted that the Australian penal clearance provided by Mr Oyeniyi was received on 04-04-2008. Therefore as it is only valid for 12 months it would have expired in April 2009. As Mr Oyeniyi departed from Australia on 12 -04-2010 an updated Australia penal clearance is required for him as the previous one had expired more than one year prior to his departure. Please could the updated document be provided.
This was A) totally incorrect as a new Australian Federal Police clearance has been lodged with the partner visa application and was still valid, and B) was totally unrelated to the Bangladeshi police clearance I was trying to find. This email was from a person in the Pretoria office who I knew was reasonably conversant with our case. How, through a couple of emails and a phone call, had this got so bloody twisted? I was so confused by now I misread my own original email and thought I had not been clear and apologised for the confusion – then I re-read my email again and realised I had NOT caused any confusion at all, because the subject line of my email was very clearly “Bangladesh Police Clearance – John OYENIYI”. I was totally worn out. (Note: this was totally innocent confusion, of course, but at the time it was considerable added stress for me.)
Pretoria had copied [lawyer]’s office on this email, so I spoke to X ([lawyer]’s assistant through all this) and he told me I should not have worried about it and left it to them. I was very grateful to do so and apologised for stepping out of line! I had also called the Bangladesh consulate and spoke to a lovely young man who was very helpful, but who assured me it would be almost impossible for John to get another Bangladesh Police Clearance and they were not able to confirm the one we were in possession of had been issued as there were no computer records and such clearances were issued locally, by hand, and records would be impossible to find. There were a host of other reasons which I noted down and forwarded to [lawyer]‘s office. I don’t know if the original was ever located in the DIAC files, but [lawyer]’s office dealt with the matter, much to my relief.
At this time the DFAT warnings about travel to Nigeria were getting worse. If it is dangerous for travellers, it is dangerous for residents too. I emailed [lawyer]’s office to ensure the legal team were aware of the escalating situation in Nigeria. There were elections going on, which raised the levels of violence considerably. I can’t imagine voting materials not arriving on time for an election in Australia or the USA or England, but in other parts of the world what we expect is not what happens.
Officials said on Sunday the elections that had been postponed to Monday after voting materials failed to arrive on time will now take place on April 9 in Africa’s most populous nation.
Attahiru Jega, the head of the electoral commission, told reporters: “The commission weighed all the options and considered the wide-ranging counsel of Nigerians and decided to reschedule all the elections as follows: Saturday, April 9, senate and house of representatives elections; Saturday, April 16, presidential elections; Tuesday, April 26, state houses of assembly and governorship elections.”
The electoral body’s resident commissioner in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt said the postponement was partly prompted by complaints from political parties that the time frame was too tight.
“Some parties have said they won’t take part … Without political parties there is no election so INEC has to listen to their comments,” the commissioner, Aniedi Ikoiwak, said. Jega was given a $570m budget last August just for overhauling voter lists and buying additional ballot boxes, leading some Nigerians to question whether they were getting value for money. There are 73 million registered voters out of a population of 158 million and the budget means each of Nigeria’s 36 states would receive at least $15m.
One of the extra bits of documentation we had to provide was proof I had paid for John’s outstanding debt to the Commonwealth of Australia. This was a $1,400 fee for his appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal. I had to pay that before John could come back into Australia. Naturally, asylum seekers who are denied the right to work don’t have any money to pay tribunal fees and he had been removed without any opportunity to pay.
I had, I believed, taken care of all this the month before, after we won the MRT appeal. I’d called the Debtors department, obtained the appropriate paperwork and sent it back. It transpired that paperwork had never been processed.
Despite my less than impressive communications with DIAC to date, on the day in question I had a very positive experience. Communicating yet again with the Debtor’s department to get it sorted out, the lady was lovely! Naturally, I had been dreading following this payment up, so I was very relieved.
She demonstrated a human touch and empathy for our situation. It wasn’t much, but it was such a nice feeling to be spoken to as if I was a real person for once. I hope this young lady (although she may not be so young, I really did not know) goes a long way in her career, because she has people skills and she uses them well.
Not only was this staff member empathetic and a good communicator, she was also efficient and knowledgeable. It was a pleasure to deal with her, even though this was about me paying yet more money. So you can tell I was impressed – one is rarely impressed when they have to pay money!
This is how it went you see. The additional paperwork for the visa grant was due within 49 days from the request. The processing of the payment could not be completed within six weeks. Allowing for delivery times, another department of the same organisation was telling me that I would be unable to meet the deadline specified by the first department. As you can imagine, I found this a little on the stressful side – in those dark days it didn’t take much to stress me! When I expressed my concern and provided a little more information about our situation, she was wonderful and offered to arrange expedited processing.
Someone CARED! It was a good day!
Miss O 1’s Nigerian Police Clearance had to be obtained twice, because unlike Australian children who are used to signing from a young age, Miss O 1 had really only ever signed her passport. She signed the Police Clearance in a different way. John had not been there to guide her through the process. We had to apply for a second Police Clearance so the signatures would be the same on both the Police Clearance and the passport.
Finally, on April 19th, John despatched his paperwork directly from Nigeria to Pretoria. The paperwork despatched from Australia arrived in Pretoria on April 28th. The paperwork sent by John using EMS post (rather than the frightfully expensive couriers) did not arrive in Pretoria until May 3rd. Nigeria and South Africa are on the same continent, a five-hour flight apart. An EMS envelope took two weeks to travel the distance. We were terrified it would get lost in transit and we’d have to go through the whole process again and we didn’t have time. The expiry date for the medicals was looming.
Again we waited.