Australia is considering compensating an Iranian refugee whose daughter was deported without his knowledge. The government in Canberra has acknowledged the secret deportation and insists that Australia's asylum policies have become more honest and transparent.
The Iranian man, known only as Mr. X, was being held in solitary confinement in the Baxter detention center in South Australia when his four-year-old daughter was deported in 2003.
An investigation and subsequent report by the Australian Ombudsman's office has revealed that staff at the immigration facility had a secret plan to expel the child and asked Mr. X if they could take the young child shopping. The detainee agreed but the girl was subsequently put on a flight back to Iran without her father's knowledge.
The pair arrived in Australia illegally by boat in 2001 and were being held in custody while their claims for asylum were being processed.
Complicating the case were allegations from Mr. X's wife, who lives in Tehran, that she had custody of the child.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans says changes to the system should ensure such a case is not repeated.
"It reads as a very shocking story," said Evans. "I was very disturbed by it. The treatment of the gentleman concerned and particularly his daughter are just clearly unacceptable and we've got to make sure we do something to fix it. We've certainly rejected the way the Howard government ran immigration detention and we think under the new detention values we should not see this sort of thing occur again."
The Australian Ombudsman's office has found that immigration officials ignored legal advice that said that the father's consent was needed before the child could be sent back to her mother in Iran. Staff members involved in the secret deportation are being investigated and could face disciplinary action.
Mr. X has been granted refugee status and is currently living in the southern Australian city of Melbourne. He has suffered post-traumatic stress after his daughter was taken from him. She remains in Tehran. Authorities are discussing compensation with the refugee's lawyers and will consider offering the child and her mother visas to live in Australia.
Under measures introduced by Australia's left-of-center Labor government, which came to office in November 2007, children of asylum seekers are no longer held in detention.