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Gillard Govt faces “mass action” to compensate Asylum Seekers

July 23, 2012

From Fairfax..

The Gillard government is facing a wave of costly litigation for compensation over its treatment of refugees in immigration detention centres, including Villawood, as lawyers examine the cases of scores of former inmates.

The Social Justice Network, an advocacy group based in western Sydney, has referred more than 40 cases to the law firm Slater & Gordon to assess their eligibility to sue the Commonwealth for allegedly breaching its duty of care towards asylum seekers who developed mental illnesses while in detention.

”This could cost Australia hundreds of millions of dollars,” said the network’s spokesman, Jamal Daoud, who describes it as a ”mass action”.

”We want to see these people compensated because they have suffered a lot. A lot of them immediately after they were released into the community were granted disability pensions and were very young people,” Mr Daoud said.

One of the cases being considered is Charif Asaad, 35, who came to Australia 12 years ago on a visitor’s visa from Syria in fear for his life. After working illegally in the construction industry until 2005, he was held at Villawood for three years. There, he claims he was handcuffed during epileptic seizures. A serious lung condition which left him short of breath and prone to collapse was left untreated.

Since being released he has been unable to work and has been taking medication for depression. “I always feel angry all the time. Anything stresses me out. I feel short of breath.”

“I feel very bad that a country such as Australia treat a refugee as an animal or less than an animal. Whatever they give me is not enough because they have taken the best of me. Now if I walk for 15 minutes I feel like I am going to fall down in the road”, Mr Asaad said.

Ben Phi, the practice group leader for Slater & Gordon, which has already successfully pursued several compensation cases for former detainees, said people who come out of detention with psychiatric injuries after having been found to be refugees enter the community “already at a serious disadvantage rather than being able to go out to work and contribute”.

The time people are spending in detention has increased, which contributes to mental illness, he added.

In a legal caution which has implications for federal and opposition plans to process asylum seekers offshore, including Malaysia, Mr Phi said the federal government owes the duty of care to provide adequate medical and psychiatric services to detainees found to be refugees wherever they are held.

By late last year, the federal government had paid $18 million in compensation to asylum seekers for unlawful detention and $5 million for negligence to former detainees.



9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2012 6:37 pm

    Onshore processing is the only option. Shame on Gillard. Shame on Abbott.

    Their dirty little political games and demonising of the trickle of desperate asylum seekers who make their perilous journey here has finally become undone.

  2. July 23, 2012 7:42 pm

    From Stephen Estcourt QC, regarding the use of “illegal non citizens” to characterise asylum seekers.

    They are not illegal non citizens – they are certainly non citizens but their entry into Australia to seek asylum is legal under international law and the Refugee Convention signed by Australia. The correct legal term is asylum seeker. After their asylum claim is assessed and if found valid they become refugees, legally in Australia on a visa. Later they might become citizens but that is an entirely different thing – there are many people in Australia from the USA and UK for example who are legally resident in Australia but are not citizens.

  3. Tom of Melbourne permalink
    July 23, 2012 7:59 pm

    It wouldn’t bother me if the government coughed up big time.

    The asylum seeker issue is a poison in Australia, Indonesians don’t understand all the fuss. In the region it will be increasingly seen as a racist policy, it will be used as an example of a new version of the White Australia Policy.

    But there are the mindless who seek to differentiate between sending all people (men, women, children, aged, infirm) to Nauru or Malaysia.

    It’s a disgrace, and just gets more disgraceful!!

  4. James of North Melbourne permalink
    July 23, 2012 8:29 pm

    I’m one of the mindless. There is a huge difference between an Australian run operation on Nauru and a Malaysian effort on the Thai border.

    Every asylum seeker that arrives by boat means another stuck for longer in a camp on the Kenya Somali border.

    There is no question that onshore processing has enhanced the perception that despite the risks, there is more likely to be a favourable result from paying people smugglers.

    I think that that particular firm have quite a record of exploiting those with various illnesses and injuries, such that it is advantageous to not recover as well or as quickly as you otherwise might if there’s a common law settlement in it.

  5. It's only taxpayers' money, after all permalink
    July 23, 2012 8:38 pm

    Why am I not surprised that ambulance chasers Slater and Gordon are driving this.

    “There is, in principle, no reason why the victim of depression should not be compensated less readily than, say, the victim of a broken arm; however, depression and anxiety are extremely common in society, and the courts are of wary of making it too easy for a widespread socio-medical problem to become the subject of litigation.”


  6. It's only taxpayers' money, after all permalink
    July 23, 2012 8:42 pm

    Try this link . . .

  7. maryestcourt permalink
    July 23, 2012 8:55 pm

    I ‘ve recently sought to help an asylum seeker – visiting a local lawyer and emailing anti discrimination… I was thinking it’ll take years for an apology. Think: Stolen Generation. There will be an apology. Maybe more. How will you explain to your kids where you were when this happened?

  8. Tom of Melbourne permalink
    July 23, 2012 8:56 pm

    The political argument in summary – “Our off shore processing is much more cruel to be kind than the other lot…and our cruelty to desperate people is done with the best of intentions…unlike them.”

  9. July 24, 2012 7:36 am

    “How will you explain to your kids where you were when this happened?”

    Good point Mary. It makes me wonder how so called “christians” like Scott Morrison can sleep at night.

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