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Eyewitness describes transportation and treatment of man deported on Thai Airways; Amnesty International criticises level of restraint used; Acting Minister defends treatment of deportee.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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AM

 

Thursday 27 January 2005

Eyewitness describes transportation and treatment of man deported on Thai Airways; Amnesty International criticises level of restraint used; Acting Minister defends treatment of deportee

 

TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Government is this morning defending the use of commercial airliners for the forced deportation of people considered violent or dangerous.  

 

An Australian woman's account of the deportation
of a man on a flight from Australia to Thailand has disturbed human rights groups. 

 

When Sonia Chirgwin joined a Thai Airways flight in Sydney she was confronted by the dramatic arrival of a new passenger, who was accompanied by three security guards and restrained and gagged with tape. 

 

Mary Ann Jolley of the ABC's Investigative Unit reports. 

 

MARY ANN JOLLEY: On the 13th of December last year Sonia Chirgwin was on her way home to Australia after a year in Tonga and Laos working as an environmental consultant. 

 

The 36-year-old tells what happened when she boarded Thai Airways Flight TT993 from Bangkok to Melbourne. 

 

SONIA CHIRGWIN: Well, I got back on the plane at about 11pm at night after an hour's stopover. There was an enormous amount of noise, of metal, scraping on metal kind of noise.  

 

And then two big sort of security guard-looking people dragged onto the plane a man who was in handcuffs and leg cuffs with chains to a sort of a leather restraint thing around his waist.  

 

Probably the most alarming sight was he was gaffa taped around his mouth, all the way around the back of his head, several times, so that he could not make any noise whatsoever. And he looked terrified. 

 

MARY ANN JOLLEY: She says at no time did Thai Airways attempt to inform her or other passengers of the extraordinary situation they would face.  

 

According to Sonia Chirgwin, the man had three escorts.  

 

SONIA CHIRGWIN: They put a flight mask over his eyes and they put a blanket over him, so I guess so his cuffs and chains weren't so visible, but the gaffa tape wasn't released. 

 

MARY ANN JOLLEY: She then started questioning one of the escorts. 

 

SONIA CHIRGWIN: He seemed to spending a lot of the flight reassuring me and making sure… I guess, I felt to some level I was being contained in some way. He was saying that the man was a bad man and he was saying that he would be facing charges in his own country. The man that I spoke to said that he was so uncooperative that he'd been screaming for eight hours. 

 

MARY ANN JOLLEY: The only other information he was willing to divulge was that the man would be escorted via Bangkok to his place of origin. He remained tight-lipped on the man's identity. The Federal Government was equally guarded, but Acting Immigration Minister, Peter McGauran, told us the man would've been given all his rights. 

 

PETER MCGAURAN: The person being removed would have had full access to all aspects of refugee determination, and I don't believe this person was being removed to a place that would place him or his family at risk. 

 

MARY ANN JOLLEY: The ABC's Investigative Unit asked Thai Airways whether this deportation was standard procedure. A spokeswoman said the airline does accept handcuffed deportees when they are escorted.  

 

Dr Graham Thom, Refugee Coordinator for Amnesty International Australia, believes the level of restraint described by Sonia Chirgwin seems excessive. 

 

GRAHAM THOM: For a number of years in Australia, Amnesty has been urging real caution when you remove people, because you know, the consequences can be dire, you can actually kill someone if you don't do it in such a way that you treat them with dignity and respect.  

 

Minister Peter McGauran says restraining deportees is not common practice. 

 

PETER MCGAURAN: Restraints are rarely used, and only when necessary, to prevent a person harming themselves or others. It's the behaviour of the person being removed that determines the measures that have to be used. I'm sure it wasn't pretty for the observers on the aircraft, but it was necessary and entirely brought about by the person himself. 

 

MARY ANN JOLLEY: But Sonia Chirgwin remains disturbed by the incident.  

 

SONIA CHIRGWIN: I feel it's really inappropriate that someone is treated in such a brutal way, and I feel it's really inappropriate that it's then expected that everyone around is complicit in that. 

 

TONY EASTLEY: Sonia Chirgwin ending that that report by Mary Ann Jolley of ABC's Investigative Unit.