Sydney Morning Herald: Falun Gong followers caught in dangerous immigration Catch-22

The Immigration Department is endangering failed Falun Gong asylum seekers
by forcing them to apply for travel documents from the Chinese consulate in
Sydney, exposing their status to authorities and putting them in danger of persecution,
refugee advocates say.

One woman, Zhang Lilin (not her real name), now needs to file a sur place claim,
one created when the Government’s actions, in forcing her to go to the consulate,
initiate a need for her protection.

A spokesman for the department denied that it alerted foreign authorities about
former protection visa applicants. Australia deported 770 Chinese nationals
in 2007-08 but the department could give no figure on what percentage of them
were failed protection visa applicants.

The chairwoman of Balmain for Refugees, Frances Milne, who works with Chinese
asylum seekers, said it was naive to assume, as the Australian Government did,
that because it did not consider the asylum seeker a refugee, the Chinese Government
would not be offended by a person claiming protection from alleged human rights
abuses. Last month a Chinese consular officer told Ms Zhang that China opposed
its citizens applying for asylum. "If you don’t understand, I have to say
simply this is policy. As you applied for a protection visa, you should know
this is against the Chinese Government’s policies." A transcript of that
conversation has been sent to the Immigration Department…

Mrs Milne said "the crackdown on human rights protests throughout the Olympics
clearly indicates that China is very sensitive and brutal when it has to defend
its human rights record against overseas claims of human rights abuses".

In a letter to the Immigration Minister, Mrs Milne said "the Government
has created the situation where [Ms Zhang] needs to make a sur place claim for
protection". She called on the minister to change departmental regulations
that create such situations.

The Herald spoke with three Falun Gong practitioners who have had their claims
for protection rejected, and are facing deportation. However, none of the women
has a valid Chinese passport – two have expired passports and the third has
lost hers since arriving in Australia – so new documents must be issued.

The three are caught in a Catch-22 scenario: the Department of Immigration,
seeking to deport them, will only issue a bridging visa (removal pending) that
allows them to stay if they present travel documents that show their intention
to leave Australia. The Chinese consulate will only issue them with travel documents
if they spell out the nature of the bridging visa E they are seeking. Fearing
persecution from authorities, none of the women want to reveal they have applied
for protection from China. A second woman, 57, who came here in 1999, was told
to get a new passport or the department would send her to Villawood. She said,
through an interpreter, that she went six times to the consulate, and each time
she was refused help. The consulate had said her letter from the department
did not clearly mention the immigration category so it would not take the application.

One time a consular officer asked her directly: "Are you applying for the
refugee visa? They said if you are … you must give us all the [protection
claim] documents. I dare not say directly [I am a refugee] because spies here
take pictures of Falun Gong activities here," she said.

A third woman, 47, who arrived in 2002, gave the consulate with a letter from
the Immigration Department requesting travel documents. The consulate asked
"’What is an E visa? What kind of visa?’ Finally I said I am a refugee
and they threw [the passport application] back across the counter at me. They
looked very angry." Despite the women’s experience, a departmental spokesman
said its officers would undertake to get travel documents for them if asked.

Posting date: 12/Nov/2008
Original article date: 01/Nov/2008
Category: Media Report


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