Is holidaying in Australia worth the risk?

July 18, 2001


SYDNEY — Oleg and Nicolae Cujba, two cousins from Moldova, arrived in Australia on October 13 for what they hoped would be a pleasant holiday.

Instead, after being questioned at the airport by officials from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA), they were handcuffed and taken to Villawood detention centre, where they remained for nine months, until finally being deported on July 11.

The grounds for this prolonged imprisonment was that immigration officials suspected that their intentions of coming to Australia for a holiday were not "genuine".

They had "only" $8000 each, which DIMA argued was not enough for their five-day stay. They arrived after the Olympics had finished, which DIMA considered "highly suspicious". They had not booked somewhere to stay, intending to use backpacker accommodation.

The final reason DIMA gave was that other Moldovans had breached visa conditions during the Olympics by working or applying for political asylum.

By DIMA's reckoning, despite the cousin's professional positions — Oleg is a dentist, Nicolae a lawyer — and their families back in Moldova, they fit into a statistical profile more likely to breach visa conditions.

A DIMA official, fully supported by immigration minister Philip Ruddock, decided not to take the chance and attempted to immediately deport them.

The Cujbas refused to accept immediate deportation, appealing the decision. An airfare from Moldova to Australia is expensive and, if deported from Australia, it is likely that immigration officials of other countries, seeing the stamp in their passports, would also refuse them admission.

This would make it difficult for the Cujbas to ever again have an overseas visit.

Current interpretation of Australian immigration law denies people in the Cujbas' position the right of assumed innocence. DIMA does not have to provide evidence to confirm its hunch. Instead, the onus is on the intending holidaymaker to "prove" they were not going to try to stay in Australia permanently.

The cousins appeared in the Federal Court in June. They won the case. The judge, Richard Conti, found that the grounds on which they had been barred from having a holiday in Australia were "not viable or sustainable".

But Conti could not issue them with visas because their original visas had expired. Only the immigration department could do that.

Ruddock's response, quoted in the July 3 Sydney Morning Herald, was that the Cujbas "seemed to have convinced a court", but he did not believe them. He "offered" them immediate deportation back to Moldova.

The cousins refused the "offer", remaining determined to clear their names and keep their passports free of "deported" stamps.

They asked Ruddock to allow them a three-week holiday in Australia in return for an agreement not to sue the government for the treatment they have received.

On the night of July 11, under the cover of darkness, the two were deported. Undoubtedly they won't be attempting another holiday in Australia.

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