Bakhtiyari fight ends in tragic deportation

Issue 

Sarah Stephen

It was with disgust and horror that many Australians watched news reports on December 30 of the Bakhtiyari family's overnight deportation. TV cameras captured glimpses of tearful children looking out the windows of their chartered plane — leased at a cost of around $8500 an hour — which took them from Port Augusta to Pakistan via Bangkok.

The headmaster of Adelaide's St Ignatius College, where Alamdar and Montazar had been studying, accused the government of stealing the childhood of the six children. "These children have known this type of experience — dislocation, forced separation, hostile treatment — for four years, a large portion of their lives", he told the December 31 Adelaide Advertiser.

In the days before the deportation, lawyers frantically told anyone who would listen that there was substantial evidence, which had not been presented before a court, supporting the Bakhtiyaris' claims of Afghan origins.

Only one major newspaper reported this — the Sunday Age on December 19 — but the documents were dismissed as easy to get on the black market. It didn't bother to investigate claims that the documents used to "prove" Ali Bakhtiyari's Pakistani citizenship may have been false.

The Bakhtiyaris' lawyers haven't been able to present this new evidence because, thanks to changes made by the Coalition government, the courts are restricted to looking at errors of law in rejected asylum applications and not the facts of the case, no matter how compelling.

Immigration minister Amanda Vanstone announced on December 31 that the Bakhtiyaris would be sent a bill for $1 million, the cost of their detention in Australia for nearly four years. She added that this was not the full cost of their struggle to stay in Australia, which includes around $600,000 in court costs (many generated by the government's appeals against favourable decisions), and $750,000 for the cost of Roqia's detention at an Adelaide motel in 2003, prior to and following the birth of Mazhar ($80,000 per month for accommodation, plus food and 24-hour security).

The government has no intention of ever collecting this money. It is merely a vindictive step to prevent the family from ever returning to Australia, and to prevent St Ignatius College from sponsoring the older boys to return to finish their schooling.

Writing in a December article, titled "Tragedy of the common man", Mary Crock, associate professor at Sydney University's law faculty, explained her thoughts on why the Bakhtiyaris were hounded so viciously by the government: "The Bakhtyaris brought the ordinary injustice of Australia's laws and policies into Australian homes. The department of immigration retaliated by going into damage control mode.

"The authorities moved to deflect criticism from a cruel system by focusing attention on the faults of the family. Roqia's failure to persuade the decision makers of her Afghan origins became the focus for discrediting Ali and the family as a whole. Ali's refugee status was revoked and he was placed back in detention.

"The Bakhtyaris' biggest crime has been that they have embodied the ordinary pain suffered by many asylum seekers separated from family, locked up for long periods and subjected to vilification and abuse. For this they are being punished."

From Green Left Weekly, January 19, 2005.
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