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Wrongfully detained for 5 years - the tragic -

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DANA ROBERTSON: You're probably familiar with the names Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon, both victims
of immigration scandals involving illegal detention or deportation. Tonight another such case has
come to light.

It 's difficult to imagine the nightmare endured by Tony Tran.

A young husband and father, he was wrongfully locked-up for five and a half years; he was separated
from his wife, who went back overseas and now can't be found; he lost his home and his livelihood
and his Australian-born son was put into foster care while an attempt was made to deport the boy
without his father's knowledge.

You may think, well, it can't get worse than that.

But while in detention Tony Tran was stabbed and bashed by another inmate and now suffers a range
of chronic health problems.

Despite all this the Government has never apologised. Indeed, Tony Tran and his son still face
possible deportation, although they're stateless with no citizenship rights anywhere else in the
world.

So tonight we ask: why is his case - and that of his nine-year-old son - being allowed to drag on?
Questions neither side of politics appear anxious to comment on in an election campaign.

Tony Tran told his story exclusively to Lateline's Margot O'Neill.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Tony Tran will never forget the day his life was taken away by the Federal
Government. Having lived in Australia for seven years, Tony Tran had married a South Korean woman,
had an Australian-born toddler, a mortgage, a tax file number and big plans for his family's future
in Brisbane. But 18 months about inquiring about a spouse visa for his wife, Tony Tran found
himself handcuffed and taken to jail. It was December 1999 he would never see his wife again.

TONY TRAN: I didn't expect to get locked up like that, so I never get to say goodbye or never get
to kiss my son.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Have you ever seen your wife again since that morning?

TONY TRAN: No.

MARGOT O'NEILL: That was the last time you saw your wife, that morning?

TONY TRAN: Yes.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Tony Tran, who was born in Vietnam but had grown up in the United States as a
refugee was told he was an illegal resident in Australia. He believed he'd had a valid visa, but
immigration officials told him it had been cancelled years before. The problem is that Tony Tran
had never been properly notified. The letter from Immigration had been returned unopened to the
Department, and a person must be properly notified before any action can be taken against them.

DAVID MANNE, DIRECTOR, REFUGEE & IMMIGRATION LEGAL CENTRE: He should never have been in there in
the first place. He should never have been locked up. Under Australian law, if you're not properly
notified of a decision, it is unlawful for you to be detained.

MARGOT O'NEILL: But worst was to come. Tony Tran's wife and child are also facing detention, so she
agrees to go back to South Korea, taking their then two-year-old son with her.

Immigration officials help prepare the paperwork and their son is given a South Korean passport,
but not in his legally registered name Tran, the same as his father. Instead his name is altered to
a Korean name to facilitate his entry into South Korea.

This is all done without Tony Tran's knowledge or consent. He found out he'd lost his family from
an immigration official after they'd already gone to South Korea.

TONY TRAN: When they taken my child, that's when everything just collapsed for me mentally and
physically. I thought I lost them. I thought I'd never see him again. Because I don't even know how
my life is going to end.

MARGOT O'NEILL: How did you cope with that feeling?

TONY TRAN: You just... You just can't really cope with it, actually. It's mainly medication. I was
on medication the whole time I was there.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Two years later, Tony Tran's wife returns briefly to Queensland where she abandons
Hai, who's now four. She says she can't cope as a single mother. She then disappears back in South
Korea.

State child welfare officials write to the Immigration Department saying it would be best if Tony
Tran could care for his son in the community. Immigration refuses. Ultimately, Hai ends up in
foster care against Tony Tran's wishes.

Transferred between four different detention centres in four states, Mr Tran claims the Immigration
Department prevents him from attending the Children's Court hearings.

TONY TRAN: So they said that, well, if you want to attend the court, you have to organise it
yourself. Now if you are in detention centre with fences around you, how are you going to organise
something like that?

MARGOT O'NEILL: Powerless from inside immigration prison, Tony Tran yearns to see his son but
doesn't want Hai to see his desperate plight. Immigration officials refused to allow them to meet
outside detention, so father and son hang onto each other through weekly telephone calls.

(To Tony Tran) And so you never told him that you were in detention, you wanted to protect him?

TONY TRAN: Yes.

MARGOT O'NEILL: What did you tell him?

TONY TRAN: I told him that just to study hard, and that we have a long line of brainy people in our
family, and that you have to study hard because they are working very hard to pay for his school
fees and I was working far away, and that I'll be back one day. That's all I can say.

MARGOT O'NEILL: How did he go?

TONY TRAN: The thought of my son saying, like, "Dad, when can I see you? When can I touch you?"
Because he all he have is picture of me, and that was it.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Tony Tran wants to send his son a new photo taken inside Baxter detention centre.
But it takes months of paperwork and finally, officials refuse to process it, he says, until one
days when he threatens to jump off a roof.

TONY TRAN: I get to the point where I have to climb on the roof at Baxter and threaten to jump if
they don't process my picture so I can send to my son. Within like an hour or so, they processed
it.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Despite Tony Tran's anguish at being separated from his son, immigration officials
claim he doesn't care about the child when they contact migration agent Libby Hogarth about the
case.

LIBBY HOGARTH, MIGRATION AGENT: Basically I was told that the father wasn't being very cooperative
and really hadn't taken much interest in the child's welfare.

MARGOT O'NEILL: She's shocked when she finally talks to Tony Tran.

LIBBY HOGARTH: I talked to him about his son and it was very, very obvious to me that the major
concern in his life was his young son who he hadn't seen for a number of years.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Meanwhile, immigration officials try to arrange to deport Hai back to Korea and
leave the now five-year-old in the custody of Korean welfare, effectively as an orphan as this
letter from Immigration shows.

EXCERPT OF LETTER (read by actor): My purpose in writing to you is to request that, as the child is
a Korean national, the Korean Consulate arrange for the return of the child to Korea in
coordination with the Health and Welfare Agency in Seoul.

DAVID MANNE: Even though he's in detention, he has rights. There is a duty of care owed to Tony at
this time not to prevent him from effectively exercising the legal rights that he has under
Australian law in relation to the care and custody of his son, Hai.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Who knows how long Tony Tran's saga might have dragged on. But the scandals about
the illegal detention of Cornelia Rau and deportation of Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon
prompt a thorough review of all detention cases. And then, on the 7 June 2005, with no warning,
Tony Tran is set free.

He can't remember much about that first week expect that he finally reunites with the son he'd put
to sleep every night as a baby, but hadn't seen in more than five years.

TONY TRAN: It's nice to have him in my arms again. Because as a parent all you do is protect your
children and that I finally get to protect him and cuddle him and put him back to sleep again.

MARGOT O'NEILL: At first Hai has nightmares, afraid that his father will leave him again.

TONY TRAN: That's very heartbreaking actually. Even when I got him back, every night he will have
nightmare. Even when he's asleep, his hand will twirl around just to feel if I was there and he'll
wake up and pinch my skin whether to see it's real or not. And then after that he'll go back to
sleep again. Everyday I told him that I will always be here.

MARGOT O'NEILL: After five and a half years of wrongful detention and agonising separation from his
child, Tony Tran is released with a letter from the Government admitting that he'd actually had
valid visas since 1993.

So Tony Tran had been legal all the time. But two years after his release, there's no resolution of
his or his son's ability to stay in Australia. No compensation, no apology. And even though he has
no rights of citizenship anywhere else and has now been in Australia for 14 years, Tony Tran and
his son could still be deported unless they're given permanent residence.

DAVID MANNE: Their future fate is completely uncertain. They have nowhere else to go, and yet in
Australia they have no permanent status.

MARGOT O'NEILL: This ongoing instability makes it more difficult for 35-year-old Tony Tran to
recover his health, which dramatically deteriorated during his years of incarceration. He was
savagely bashed and stabbed by an unstable inmate.

TONY TRAN: The policeman have said that they have found like a six-inch homemade nail on a handle,
so he stabbed me with it and he smashed me between my eyes.

MARGOT O'NEILL: A private ombudsman's report seen by Lateline concluded in July this year that part
or all of Tony Tran's detention may have been unlawful, and recommends the Government investigate a
remedy for Mr Tran.

But for nearly a year, lawyers have tried to sit down with the Government to negotiate compensation
to no effect. They have now filed a suit in the Victorian Supreme Court which could result in one
of the biggest immigration payouts in history. Another damages suit for Tony's son, Hai, will
follow.

DAVID SHAW, PARTNER, HOLDING REDLICH LAW FIRM: I think this is a matter which is capable of being
resolved relatively quickly with good will on both sides. We've been seeking to have negotiations
with the Government since February this year. I'd love to see a situation where Tony and his son
could have their status resolved by Christmas.

LIBBY HOGARTH: I just have the most amazing respect for Tony for the way that he's got on with his
life since his release, the way he's managed his child and really worked so hard at giving that
child some stability in life whilst still in such a limbo period, because he still doesn't have any
decision on our request to the Minister to intervene in his case, that's been sitting before the
Minister for nearly two years now, and so we're still waiting for some answer and some closure on
this case.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Tony Tran now battles depression, asthma and a heart condition. He lives on charity
in Melbourne while studying to get a degree in radiology.

TONY TRAN: When you ask me how do I feel, I don't really know what to feel. I just want to, most of
the time, just want to be secluded, just want to be myself for now. For me my main focus is, like,
my son. To hope that he can grow up and lead a normal life. For me, I'm trying as well. It's not
easy but I'm trying as well.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Margot O'Neill, Lateline.

TONY JONES: Lateline sought interviews from both the Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, and his
Labor counterpart, Tony Burke.

Mr Andrews' office returned our calls late tonight after being tied up today with campaign issues
and they undertook to look at the case tomorrow.

Mr Burke was unable to join us tonight also because of campaign commitments.