A Sunday Story, 15th of December 2013
Volume 278

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Today's Sunday Story gives an insight on the darker side of the DIBP, the one most Australians never get to see and very rarely hear about. How some people are treated like criminals, locked up for days at a detention centre instead of being allowed to leave on the next flight out.   


Welcome to the Hotel Villawood;
A three night stay c/o the Australian taxpayer
-Tanaya Das   
Happier times for Sumin and her boyfriend Sunghun

Sumin Lim was like any other upwardly mobile visitor to Australia, coming from a well-off family who have always supported her in her endeavours.  


She came to Australia from Korea three years ago as an exchange student and liked it so much that she decided to enrol full-time as an international student and spent over $30,000 on her University fees alone.


Over the course of her time here she met, became friends with and is now in a relationship with Sunghun Baek, a Korean born Sommelier who has worked for some of the best names among Sydney's fine dining establishments.


They got together when Sumin was still studying and went on to share a beautiful home with a stunning wine display. Over the years Sumin finished her studies, stayed on as a working holiday visa holder and then as a tourist visa holder. As a tourist visa holder she didn't have work rights but that didn't bother her since Sunghun was supporting her and they were intending to apply for a dependent visa for her soon.


Sunghun's family reside in the United States where he holds a permanent resident status and had to travel there a few weeks ago to attend to family matters. While booking his return tickets he decided to come back via Fiji and arranged for Sumin to meet him in Fiji.


On the way back from Fiji Sumin says "I was really pleased to be back (to Sydney) my second home with my boyfriend. My b-day was in a few days, and my friend wedding was in two weeks in Cooma where I had never been, so I was like, can't wait to back to all the exciting events."

Between the two of them Sunghun and Sumin have been to over 30 countries and to seasoned travellers like them the immigration process at any airport seems routine and certainly nothing to be alarmed about.
However at the Sydney airport customs counter she says she was abruptly pulled out of the line "I had no idea what's going to happen to me the next. When I entered the passport check gate, they said I need to wait and see immigration staff and the immigration officer I was talking to was saying things like 'you will be in big trouble than this' 'don't lie to me' ' you'd better be honest' ' you don't know what's going to happen next'." 

As a law abiding citizen who just wanted to get home after a plane journey Sumin was shocked and says "I was so scared, nervous and seriously had no idea what's going on and why they were treating me so rudely. If you are just one of common people who has common sense, done nothing wrong ever in a society, then you can hardly imagine you will be treated as a potential criminal"

Once Sumin was singled out by the DIBP, they demanded that she hand over her mobile phone and asked for her passkey. On the phone they found one email with her resume as an attachment and concluded that she was looking to work while on a tourist visa. Sumin explained again and again that her boyfriend lives here, they will register their relationship and apply for a dependent visa and she had sent her resume to a common friend just to get his feedback but all her answers to their questions just fell on deaf ears.

The DIBP then cancelled her tourist visa.

Sumin has been in Australia on a range of temporary visas since she first came here but Sumin and her partner don't understand what is wrong with that. She applied for visas and got them and has never been in Australia without a visa.

They were preparing their papers to lodge a dependent visa for Sumin and because of this incident not only was Sumin refused entry to Australia but now faces a three year ban from applying for another Australian visa. A fact that wasn't explained to her.

Sumin's flight from Fiji landed at about nine pm on the 11th of November and she says "Interview of visa cancellation finished at 3am on Tuesday (12th of Nov). I knew the flight schedule to Korea from Sydney which was just twice a day every morning, so I asked whether I just book earliest flight ticket (9 am or 10 am on 12th of Nov) to Korea. One of Immigration office staff said 'yes If you can find a seat and book by yourself' so I was middle of booking process but she just came to me 'no you can't because of the process, the airline that you came with has obligation to book return ticket, and from now on you will not be allowed to use your phone' . I had to turn off my phone and was removed from the office at 3am. After that, I asked so many times to everyone that I want to book earliest flight ticket back to home myself. Staffs keep saying 'wait until all arrangement is done between airline and immigration office'"

According to Sunghun, Fiji airlines, the airline they came to Sydney on wanted nothing to do with them and she was told by the DIBP officers that the airline "will not spend a cent on this".

While Fiji airline decided to absolve themselves Sumin says she was asked to get in a van without being told where she was being taken "I needed to get in to a van with fence between front seat and back. I was not told where I am going to until I ask. Immigration staff previously just mentioned that I will be held somewhere like a hostel, did not mention about Villawood or detention centre at all. I was away from all my belongings even though I was in shorts on a cold night."

The hostel turned out to be the Immigration Villawood Detention Centre. Sumin was held for three days against her will, inspite of wanting to book her ticket out of Australia, she wasn't allowed to.

She says "It was so terrifying for me to enter Villawood for the first time. All I could see were endless fences... The car I was in with security staff needed to go past many fences which were locking behind us. I heard and read about Villawood from media and what I automatically recall about Villawood was jail, prison, self-harm incidents and many riots... I was so shocked they took me to Villawood and yes it was like a prison. I felt like I am a really criminal."

Protests from the past; detainees at Villawood 
While she was in Villawood wearing the same clothes from her flight not having anything except her handbag on her, Sumin wasn't allowed to use her phone or step out of her room. She says she was cold in her shorts and thin tee-shirt and kept asking the guards if she could call someone to deliver her things. Finally when she explained that she was going back to Korea where its the middle of winter and snowing she was allowed to call her boyfriend to deliver her things.

Sunghun says "She spoke to me just enough to say she needs her things and she loves me, I could hear her sobbing as she hung up. She sounded like someone was next to her ensuring she didn't talk for long"

When Sunghun went to Villawood to drop her things off, he was told a riot had broken out and he wouldn't be allowed to see her.
A welcoming touch 
Sumin says the conditions in Villawood were far from hygenic "There were definitely not enough supplies to stay there. No clean bathroom and the food was really bad. I just had a few bites whenever I had to have a meal."
At the end of three days finally Sumin was allowed to book a ticket out of Australia with her mother's credit card and she flew back to Korea but both Sumin and Sunghun can't help but wonder; why she wasn't allowed to book a ticket with her funds on the first day and what was the point of wasting their time and tax payers' funds by keeping a person unnecessarily in Villawood? 

Sunghun meanwhile was running from pillar to post, he went to multiple migration agents, the Korean consulate and everywhere else he could think of just to find out where Sumin was and if she had left Australia. He can't understand why it wasn't possible for him to have booked them both tickets out of Australia on the first night.

Sumin says the cancellation caused her disgrace because she has not broken any laws. "Their (DIBP Officers) behaviour of intruding my private email and extracting information and then taking it out of context, indicates how biased they were. The cancellation will cause a lot of inconvenience when I am travelling to other countries, on many of the entry form you must answer if you had been cancelled a visa before.  I am from a well off family and have my bachelor degree.  I have no intention to break the law."

She says it is painful just to remember the whole episode, "I cried so much, could not sleep during my stay at detention centre. No outside contact was allowed. I was not able to Say goodbye to my worrying boyfriend at the airport, not able to inform him when I will be removed this country as well."

Previous Hotel Villawood guests display their displeasure for the media 
She thought anyone with enough common sense could see she was no threat "When your freedom is taken away for an unreasonable reason, one is heartbroken, suffering from suicidal thoughts. Even now that I am back home, I still can not understand why this happened to me. I am so depressed, feel abandoned. I can not be well still."

Today Sumin faces an uncertain future of not knowing if she will be allowed to join her partner in Australia. Sunghun is outraged to know that even if they were to get married a three year ban on visiting Australia will apply to Sumin for essentially doing nothing wrong.


"Welcome to the Hotel Villawood": the song
(hum it  to that famous Hotel California tune)


"I thought I heard them say


Welcome to the Hotel Villawood

Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)

Such a lovely face.

Plenty of room at the Hotel Villawood

Any time of year (any time of year) you can find it here


Immigration's Tiffany-twisted, it's got a prisoner van

They've got a lot of pretty, pretty guards, who are always on hand

How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat

Some dance to remember, some dance to forget


So I called to the Manager,

'Please bring me my clothes'

He said, 'If you don't behave young girl we'll let you have the hose'

And still those voices are calling from far away,

Wake you up in the middle of the night

Just to hear them say"


Welcome to the Hotel Villawood

Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)

Such a lovely face.

They livin' it up at the Hotel Villawood

What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise), bring your alibis


Mould crawls on the ceiling,

The pillows filled with lice

And she said, 'we are all just prisoners here, of our own device'

And in the managers chambers,

They gathered for the feast

Laughing at detainee tales,

About which ones have been fleeced.


Last thing I remember, I was

Running for the door

I had to find the passage back to the place I was before

'Relax' said the night man,

'We are programmed to deceive.

You can check out any time you like,

But you can never leave!'



Karl Konrad
Karl Konrad

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Karl Konrad 



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When I heard about this story I couldn't believe my ears. Does this sort of thing happen in Australia?


I'm sure most of us have no real issues with the DIBP reserving the right to cancel somebody's visa, but to place them in the back of a security van without telling where they are going and then lock them in a detention centre for days, my god, is our island secretly run by North Korea?


There can be neither excuses, nor justifications to detain people for days simply because the DIBP believe they are not a genuine tourist.


Perhaps if an individual had an existing arrest warrant or perhaps they were on a terrorist watch list, maybe, but this example of how Sumin was treated is a disgrace to any sophisticated democratic society.


In this case Sumin was more than happy to pay and book her flight out the same morning her visa was cancelled. Visa cancelled at 3am, next flight out to Korea would have been about 9am. So why was it necessary to throw her in a van in middle of the night and lock her up for 3 days?


Remember this was a law abiding person who obviously just by looking at her would be no threat to anyone. She had abided for years with the laws of Australia and had a good history of meeting the conditions of her previous visas. She had also spent tens of thousands of dollars into Australian education institutions. 


No doubt the DIBP will justify this by saying she had a boyfriend here. Our response would be, so what? Is that some sort of new criminal code we should be made aware of?


Clearly the DIBP is out of control and have no accountability on how they treat foreign nationals. The amount of power they have appears to have gone to their heads where ordinary law abiding people can be treated like criminals at the drop of a hat.


Of course we also have to wonder how much Sumin's transportation and luxury stay at the Hotel Villawood for three nights would have cost the Australian taxpayer.  


Perhaps they need to keep up a high-level occupancy rate so they can keep their government cash payments rolling in.


We placed a request for the DIBP to provide us with a cost analysis of Sumin's detention but of course, as expected, they failed to answer. 


In any case there can be no justification for not allowing Sumin to catch the next available flight out of Australia.  


I'm sure given the alternative of visiting Villawood for three days she would have been more then happy to sit on a chair in the transit area of Sydney airport and chat to her boyfriend for company whilst she waited for the morning flight out.


All Australian citizens should feel ashamed in how we treat foreign visitors who arrive here with the best intentions. It maybe they have misunderstood what it means to be a tourist but that does not justify to lock someone up.


Forceful detention should always be used as a last resort only. It psychotically harms those who have to experience such treatment and it costs the Australian taxpayer huge amounts of money which could be better spent elsewhere.


Why not give Sumin just a 3-day transit visa so she could have time to say goodbye to her boyfriend and arrange her own flight out?


Did the DIBP really expect that she was some threat to the community?  


Did they think she would jeopardise her visa history by becoming an over stayer?


Clearly the DIBP needs to revisit their strategy on how they treat and manage people.


Karl Konrad 







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