- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

SYDNEY — The Australian government has started an investigation into revelations that its immigration department has mistakenly deported Australian citizens and placed some of them in razor-wired detention centers.

More than 200 cases are under scrutiny in what is being viewed as the worst bungle by an overzealous immigration department.

One of the best-known cases is that of German-born Australian resident Cornelia Rau, who suffers from mental illness and was wrongfully detained for 10 months at the Baxter detention center “like a caged animal.”

Another concerns Vivian Alvarez Solon, an Australian citizen who was deported to the Philippines in 2001 shortly after a road accident because she wasn’t carrying her Australian passport and was unable to prove her citizenship.

Mrs. Solon left behind two children and has spent the past four years in Mother Teresa’s home for the dying in Manila, where she was discovered after the mistake was revealed this year.

Immigration officials reportedly have been aware since 2003 of their mistake regarding Mrs. Solon but chose not to inform Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone.

Both Mrs. Solon and Miss Rau are demanding compensation, and the opposition Labor Party has asked for a “royal commission” into the problem.

A poll conducted by the Age newspaper last month found that 94 percent supported such an investigation.

“There has been a very strong drive against illegals in Australia and a very good [informant] system,” the opposition immigration spokesman, Laurie Ferguson, said.

“But the [anti-immigrant] culture has become so proactive that they have begun cutting corners as well. Even Amanda Vanstone said that it should be more user-friendly.”

Australia’s tough immigration policies have been touted by the government as being responsible for reducing the numbers of boat people and reducing the number of illegal people entering Australia, Mr. Ferguson said.

Mandatory detention was central to the government’s electoral victory in 2001, even though it has brought condemnation from the United Nations. Since July 1999, at least 10,000 people have been detained in Australia, including 3,899 children.

According to newspaper reports, 13 died in detention, four died after being deported, and 353 drowned when an overcrowded refugee boat code-named SIEV X sank off the Australian coast.

Junior members in Prime Minister John Howard’s Liberal Party have proposed a softening of the Migration Act as related to the detention policy, creating the potential for a political rift within the ruling party.

“There is growing disquiet among the backbenchers who are waiting for Howard to defuse the issue,” said John Warhurst, professor of political science at the Australian National University.

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