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New South Wales: Kumar family from Fiji claims immigration officer lied about their destination when they were taken to Villawood Detention Centre.

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Thursday 2 June 2005

New South Wales: Kumar family from Fiji claims immigration officer lied about their destination when they were taken to Villawood Detention Centre


MAR K COLVIN: Our next story also involves allegations about the Immigration Department, and a claim that staff lied to a family on short-term visas. 


The allegation is that officials told the family they were taking them for a meeting at government offices in Parramatta, when in fact their destination was a detention centre. 


The Kumar family were living in Dubbo in central western New South Wales. 


They say department officers picked them up by in early March and told them they were driving down to Sydney to discuss new bridging visas. Instead they took them to the Villawood Detention Centre. 


The family, including two school age children and a two-year-old boy, was then locked up. The Immigration Department denies it lied to the family.  


But the case has galvanised a conservative country town and put pressure on the local National Party MP to back Coalition colleagues agitating for change in Australian detention policy. 


Toni Hassan reports.  


TONI HASSAN: The Kumars, a Fijian Indian family, came to Australia in 2001 on a student visa.  


Navindra Kumar used it to study at Cornerstone Bible College in Bourke in central western New South Wales.  


Two years later he, his wife and their children moved to nearby Dubbo, where they were given bridging visas while they sought asylum. They claimed that the coup in Fiji in 2000 left them, as Indian Fijians, vulnerable to persecution. 


Their application for protection and residency was rejected twice, but they hoped that their bridging visa would buy them more time to find a way to stay.  


One night in March the family got a call from the Department of Immigration.  


Mr Kumar says officers from Sydney said they'd be in Dubbo to quote, "help sort out some paper work". 


They offered to take Mr Kumar and his family by van to the Immigration offices in Sydney.  


NAVINDRA KUMAR: We got a bridging visa. We showed them our bridging visas and they said, that's not on. It's been cancelled. 


TONI HASSAN: From his compound inside Villawood Detention Centre, Navindra Kumar explains. 


NAVINDRA KUMAR: They said we're taking you to Parramatta to give you a bridging visa, make it… make us lawful. 


TONI HASSAN: And did you think that that would be the case? 


NAVINDRA KUMAR: Well the way they spoke was very polite and actually I only was supposed to come with them, but when they said they were taking us to Immigration in Parramatta and like I actually, can I bring my family along, and they said no problem, you can bring the family along. 


TONI HASSAN: What happened? 


NAVINDRA KUMAR: We went to Oberon. We changed the car from there. Next thing they just, we landed in Villawood Detention Centre. 


TONI HASSAN: To Villawood? 




TONI HASSAN: What did the officers say? 


NAVINDRA KUMAR: They didn't say anything. We were locked in. We were locked in, in the bus. 


TONI HASSAN: Mr Kumar spent the next 54 days in detention with his wife and three children: 14 year old Jocelyn, 12 year old Alvin and two year old Justin, who was born in Australia but is not eligible for citizenship.  


It was many days before the two older kids could let their high school know why they were away. 


NAVINDRA KUMAR: They just were looking at me, Dad, why you put us here? That's it and there's the big wires over here. When we see these big wires, they were all crying loudly you know.  


TONI HASSAN: They were howling were they? 


NAVINDRA KUMAR: Yeah. Where they taking? As soon as they opened the gates - one, two, three gates - where we going? Even myself… I lost my voice even. 


TONI HASSAN: You lost your voice? 


NAVINDRA KUMAR: Yeah. I got nothing to tell them. I felt guilty where I had brought my children. This is not a place for wife and children over here. 


TONI HASSAN: The children and their mother were released but father, Navindra Kumar, is still behind razor wire.  


PM put the story to the Immigration Department, including the claim a named departmental officer lied to the family. 


A spokesman told us there was no truth to the allegation the family was misled. 


The spokesman says the family was repeatedly given the option of living in the community on bridging visas provided the parents made arrangements to fly out of Australia, but they wouldn't do so. 


The Department of Immigration has applied to the Fijian Consulate for a Fijian passport for two-year-old Justin. 


But Dubbo, Australia, not Fiji is where the Kumar children now feel at home. Local children helped organise a 500-signature petition and have written to the Prime Minister pleading for the family to stay. 


John Cobb is the local MP who made representations to the Government on the Kumar family's behalf.  


Still he says he has serious reservations about the Fijian family's version of events.  


JOHN COBB: The issue is that he has flouted the laws - or the family in effect - have flouted the laws of the country and there is a process by which you become either a permanent resident or a citizen of this country and they have chosen to ignore that. 


TONI HASSAN: Is it appropriate that the whole family be detained while the department that's responsible works through paperwork or possible deportation orders? 


JOHN COBB: That was the family's choice to be detained. 


TONI HASSAN: And he's used the case to highlight the fact that most detainees are now visa over stayers, rather than boat people smuggled into Australia. 


JOHN COBB: I agree entirely with Australia's immigration laws and I do agree with mandatory detention, otherwise we will end up like a place like Great Britain, where they have half a million illegal refugees, and if people know that all they've got to do is hide from the authorities for two years or a year, then that is a situation that will occur, we will have another flood of illegal immigrants.  


MARK COLVIN: The Federal National Party Member for Parkes, John Cobb, ending Toni Hassan's report.