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 Thursday, May 12, 2005

Australian Compassion Returned for Wrongly Deported Filipino-Australian Woman

  May 12, 2005

On May 7, News Compass reported that in 2001, the Australian Government wrongly deported a Filipino woman who is an Australian citizen.

A two-week search was launched by Australian immigration officials. The officials said today they have found her in The Philippines.

Her deportation to the Philippines came about in an Immigration Department bungle just days after she was involved in a road accident in 2001.

Her name is Vivian Solon, 42, also known by the names of Vivian Young, Vivian Alvarez and Vivian Wilson.

Ms Solon said she was surprised at the international hunt for her because it was Australian authorities who organised for her to stay with the Missionaries of Charity convent in Manila after her deportation.

Two months after she arrived in Manila, she was moved to the order's convent in Olongapo City, 100km northwest of Manila.

Father Mike Duffin of Saint Vincent's Parish Church in the northern Philippines city of Olongapu told ABC TV's Lateline program that Vivian Alvarez Solon is being cared for by the nuns of Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity.

When Father Duffin told Ms Solon on Sunday that Australian authorities were looking for her, she replied: "Will I go to prison?"

Alexander Downer, the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs said:

"The senior administrative officer of our embassy in Manila is now on his way to meet with her and the embassy in Manila will provide consular assistance in the usual way.

Should Miss Solon wish to return to Australia, the embassy will facilitate that return."

Speaking through a Catholic priest Father Michael Duffin, 67, of Melbourne, who went to the Philippines as a missionary 39 years ago, she said:
"I would like to go back to Australia to see my kids.

But who will pay for me to fly back? How will I survive?"
She was shocked to learn her two sons, one aged nine, were in care. "I thought my husband was looking after them," she told Duffin.

The Australian government has admitted the wrongful deportation of a sick Australian woman is regretful and tragic, but it has stopped short of saying sorry amid the threat of a multi-million dollar law suit.

Immigration Minister Senator Vanstone said:

"I think this is a very, very, very regrettable situation.

There's a woman who was clearly in need of help and who through, I think it's fair to say, no fault of her own, ended up in an immigration detention facility and clearly didn't have the capacity to explain to people who she was.

And that is a tragic situation."

The minister promised Ms Solon a house and help if she chose to return home, but she refused to say whether the Government would offer compensation for the four years she was taken from her family.

Australia's Consul-General to the Philippines, Frank Evatt, met Ms Solon at the Mother Therese Missionaries of Charity hospice and said he had passed on a message of regret from Prime Minister John Howard, who told parliament the case was sad and regrettable.

Mr Evatt told ABC radio:

"She even indicated to me that there was NO need for an apology.

She understood that things can happen and that she has no concerns or misgivings ... about that."

According Father Duffin, while Ms Solon is only 42 years old, she now has the body of a person much older. Ms Solon uses a walking stick, has limited use of her hands, and is said to still be "traumatised" by the car accident and her deportation

Immigration officials were called to the Lismore Hospital in mid-2001 after Ms Solon -- who police say gave the name of Vivian Alvarez -- told staff she had nowhere to go after she recovered.

After the car accident she told immigration officials that she was an Australian citizen. "I told them, but I did not have a passport to show them. I had been in a car accident," she said.

Ms Solon migrated to Australia in 1984 to live with her Australian husband. They separated in the late-1990s

Mr Downer was forced to defend Senator Amanda Vanstone, who has been criticised over the case.

Senator Vanstone said former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer, conducting a government inquiry into immigration bungles. The inquiry will examine why Ms Young was deported and why Australian authorities were unable to find her after they realised their mistake.

Opposition Parties, mental health groups, Human Rights Commissioner Sev Ozdowski, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie and civil libertarians were among those to express outrage on Thursday at the government's handling of Ms Solon's case.

Opposition parties renewed their call for a royal commission into immigration detention while others called for the minister's resignation.

Specialist immigration solicitor Christopher Livingstone predicted Ms Solon would be eligible for millions of dollars in compensation given the standard compensation rate for unlawful detention was $1,500 a day.

"She's been deprived of her children, deprived of the aid and support of her family, I would think that it would be a multi-million claim," he told ABC radio.

Earlier, Ms Solon's sister, Cecile Solon, said from the Philippines that she was relieved her sister had been found alive. She told ABC TV:

"There are questions to be answered. I just feel that there was no compassion in (the) handling (of) her.

I feel there was some kind of racial discrimination."

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