Ali Humayun (pictured right), 26, a Pakistani detainee at Villawood whose application to stay in Australia as a refugee on the basis of either his conversion to Christianity or his homosexuality (/bisexuality) has been rejected, is suing the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the company which runs Villawood, variously described in reports as Australasian Correctional Services Pty Ltd and Global Solutions Limited, for breaching their duty of care towards him. (You can find other references here, here, here and, more generally, here.)
As reported, his claim appears to be that, on the basis of an anonymous tip-off (Humayun says it was a letter from a staff-member) that he was planning to escape, Humayun was transferred to the high-security division of Villawood and put into a cell with a known heroin user, whom he witnessed shooting up on a daily basis. Humayun says that medication which he had been prescribed for depression was withheld from him and he was unable to see a psychiatrist. Heroin was offered to him, including, Humayun says, by Villawood staff. To the knowledge of the staff (he says) he started using it, ultimately becoming addicted. He is now on a methadone program.
Humayun subsequently formed a relationship with a fellow-detainee (since released, pictured above at left), 41. Humayun also says that he has been subjected to bullying and harrassment from which the centre administration has failed to protect him. This may also form part of his claim, though that is less clear.
Humayun is presently also appealing against the Refugee Review Tribunal’s decision refusing him refugee status. I have written about his case previously here and also about refugee applications based on homosexuality here. There has been quite a lot of coverage of this issue, although advocates of Mr Humayun and critics of the Refugee Review Tribunal are inclined to pass over the less credible parts of his claims in silence, and to make exaggerated and simplistic accusations about some statements made by the tribunal in this and other cases, as well as comparisions with the Canadian system which only tell part of the story and may make the grass look a little greener than it is.
Humayun has made some claims as part of his application for refugee status which may well appear questionable, or which do not particularly excite my own personal sympathy (specifically, his claim to have converted to Hillsong-brand Christianity because of “9/11”). This sort of thing makes his claim difficult for him, but should not be determinative. As Jenni Millbank (with whom I was at law school: she was reputedly the notorious library lesbian graffitiist) pointed out: “I think there are a number of issues in this case, and it’s very common in refugee cases for there to be issues of credibility. Not all of the claim is always believed, even in successful claims.”
The Refugee Tribunal has come under criticism for rejecting applicants who couldn’t answer questions about Oscar Wilde or Madonna. What the member in question said in the case which I take to be the basis of this charge was:
“The Tribunal thus well understands that it should not expect all or any homosexual men in Iran to take an interest, for example, in Oscar Wilde, or in Alexander the Great, or in Naguib Mahfooz, or in Greco-Roman wrestling, or in the songs of Egypt’s tragic muse Oum Khalsoum, let alone, say, in the alleged mystique of Bette Midler or Madonna. There are always political, social and potentially intangible cultural considerations to take into account. However, the Tribunal was surprised to observe such a comprehensive inability on the Applicant’s part to identify any kind of emotion-stirring or dignity-arousing phenomena in the world around him.”
which is far from the same thing. (If that is the basis of Professor Millbank’s comments in the program linked above I am disappointed in her.)
Canada has had its own problems with Pakistani gay refugee applications in recent years, particularly after tightening of US laws in the wake of 9/11 led to a wave of Pakistani immigration from the United States. I don’t know how we will ever be able to say with certainty that its determination procedure is more accurate than Australia’s. It is certainly more liberal. It does not, I think, include mandatory detention as here. Human rights culture in Canada is constitutionally entrenched in a way which ours is not.
Many may baulk at a claim which, cursorily read, seems to be “you turned me into a heroin addict.” Plenty of prisoners could probably make the same claim, but I don’t see them lining up in the courts to sue for it (though these days other cases about treatment of prisoners have met with success). I’m not sure that the distinction between prisoners, who if not on remand are at least imprisoned as some kind of punishment, and refugee detainees (who are not) can really make a difference here.
The fundamental injustice of immigration law is its very existence: what is the fair reason why some people can enter or stay in a country and others cannot? The hard men (and women) of Immigration will shrug their shoulders and say that this is just the way it is, and that sympathy for the few who get here, and to whose sorrow we can put a face, is a form of sentimentalism and (and here they sometimes talk about a “queue”) unfair to others we have not seen.
That may be an unpalatable truth, but that doesn’t endear any more to me those who volunteer to implement it at the pointy end. Sadly, even allowing for the possibility that he may have exaggerated some of the details, I find Mr Humayun’s claims of arbitrary mistreatment at Villawood all too believable.