Wednesday, April 17

Australia’s hardline deportation policy leaves no room for second chances | Australian immigration and asylum

Mystery “Missy” Sixtus was just seven when she moved to Australia, too young to know about becoming an Australian citizen. When she was a teenager, she started hanging around a rough crowd.

“I screwed up,” Sixtus says. “I started to get into trouble.”

She was 18 when she was found guilty of an assault, for which she spent a month in prison. Then the federal government deported her, alone, to New Zealand under Australia’s Migration Act.

Those laws give the immigration minister what have been called “God-like” powers over overseas-born people in Australia. The minister can cancel their visas for a range of reasons, sending them into detention then back to where they were born.

Section 501 has been hotly debated recently. Earlier this year the Coalition was seeking “more discretionary power” to cancel visas using the character test. Labor said the government already had the power to cancel visas at will, but eventually waved the changes through the House of Representatives. They remain unlegislated as no time remained for Senate debate before the election.

The government has been canceling the visas of increasing numbers of people, mainly to NZ, which is strongly critical of the laws. People are often sent to countries they barely know, are isolated from family and friends, and sometimes cannot even speak the language.

It’s happening not just under s501, but s116, which again uses the character test.

It has a long list of reasons the minister can use to cancel a visa, including if the holder “may be, or would or might bea risk” to the Australian public.

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Sixtus had her permanent visa canceled under s116. She is still trying to get home to Australia.

She says she was never a threat to the public, and it came as a complete surprise when she was taken into immigration detention a month after her release from jail.

“I didn’t know what to do. The Border Force came… I was like: ‘What the hell is going on? I didn’t know that could happen’,” she says.

She admits she “screwed up”, but says she was scared and confused by the process.

From the start of 2019 to the end of 2021, 1,090 NZ citizens were removed from Australia – 1,029 of them were considered to have left voluntarily.

Asked whether “voluntarily” was the word used when someone was given a choice between staying in detention and leaving the country, the ABF says: “New Zealanders who are detained as unlawful non-citizens can request to voluntarily return to their home country at any time. Those who are unwilling to depart voluntarily may be subject to detention and removal from Australia.”

Earlier statistics Released under freedom of information laws show there were 36,420 s116 cancellations, including 463 minors in the five years to the end of 2019.

Section 116 is the one that was used to sport tennis player Novak Djokovic.

Filipa Payne, an advocate for New Zealanders’ rights, says the process of deportations is “morally bankrupt”.

Mystery Sixtus: ‘I’m trying to make a life, to get comfortable.’ Photograph: Fiona Goodall/The Guardian

“Under s116 you can reapply [for an Australian visa] after three years,” Payne says. “[But] I don’t know anyone who’s been successful in that application, because they then cancel them under 501. It’s morally bankrupt, and it’s completely destroying families.”

Sixtus is now 23, and trying to make a life in Auckland, studying business and marketing. It hasn’t been easy.

“My family’s still in Australia. I’ve been alone this whole time, moving around,” she says.

“I’m trying to make a life, to get comfortable.”

But she misses her family, and her life in Australia.

“I actually got sports on Mum’s birthday. It’s so hard for her because she can’t come over all the time,” she says, adding that the situation has been complicated by Covid.

“I grew up there. I’m more Australian… I still miss it a lot. I miss my life over there,” she says.

“We all change. We should all have a chance to prove ourselves.”

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