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Watchdog criticises Home Affairs, ABF deportation moves

A Commonwealth Ombudsman's report has lambasted Home Affairs and Australian Border Force's deportation policies of non-citizens from immigration detention.

Prolonging the deportation of people held in immigration detention by Home Affairs and Australian Border Force for several years breaches their personal liberties, an independent federal watchdog has found.

A Commonwealth Ombudsman's report found that 28 documents across both bodies detailing deportation processes were "fragmented and difficult to navigate", with a clear lack of time-frames for detainees.

"Our investigation found that some aspects of Home Affairs' and ABF's existing policies and procedures for removal are not appropriate to ensure timely removal," the ombudsman said in a scathing 20-page report published on Wednesday.

This is "because the removal process does not contain timeframes for steps or otherwise adequately reflect the significant impact of any delay upon a person's liberty."

One asylum seeker was held in immigration detention for a decade before being deported.

The report cited the case of Egyptian asylum seeker Tony Sami who was held in immigration detention in 2013 and was only deported in March 2023, as a glaring example of a breakdown in processes.

Mr Sami was detained after his visa was cancelled in March 2012 due to his criminal convictions and after exhausting all avenues of appeal the process for his deportation began in January 2019.

The bungling of his deportation by the relevant agencies was sharply criticised by Federal Court Justice Sue Mortimer in December 2022.

"There is not one skerrick of evidence suggesting any planning to a timeframe. There are no schedules or work plans," she noted.

"There is no apparent consciousness that each day, a person like Mr Sami remains deprived of his liberty not because he is under any punishment or any sentence of imprisonment that has a known end date, but because he is being held for a single purpose," Justice Mortimer said.

A November High Court ruling deemed indefinite immigration detention unlawful and unconstitutional.

Following his deportation the ombudsman found that Home Affairs and ABF did not review or update deportation policies and procedures, they don't have a process to ensure compliance for future cases, and crucially officers do not have a clear road-map of the removals process.

ABF told the ombudsman that 2047 detained persons were removed from Australia between July 2021 and  June 2023, with 74 per cent of them removed within six months of the removal process starting.

But the ombudsman pushed for more clarity on the processes.

As of last September there were 162 active removal cases being managed for people whose deportation process had been in the works two or more years.

The investigation comes after a landmark High Court ruling in November deemed indefinite immigration detention unlawful and unconstitutional forcing the Albanese government to release nearly 150 detainees under strict bail conditions, including wearing an ankle monitor and curfews. 

In correspondence attached to the report, Home Affairs department secretary Stephanie Forster maintained that "Mr Sami's case, which did take an extended period to resolve, is not representative of the majority of removals progressed by the ABF".

Some cases were "outside of the department's control relating to processes of foreign governments, which can extend removal timeframes", she said.

Ms Forster blamed the pandemic and the Egyptian government for not providing him with necessary travel documents.

The ombudsman urged the government to abide by policies and procedures that "should clearly acknowledge that, with each passing day of a removal process, a person remains deprived of their liberty".

"Holding a person in immigration detention, even for a lawful purpose, is a deprivation of liberty," the report said.


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