16 Oct 2015

Anxious wait for detainees ahead of PM visit

8:32 am on 16 October 2015

"Malcolm Turnbull, can you please let me go back home to my children... please?"

This is the plea from Angela Russell, a New Zealand citizen being held at an Australian detention centre, before the new Australian Prime Minister's visit to New Zealand.

New Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces his Cabinet on 20 September 2015.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces his cabinet on 20 September 2015. Photo: Getty Images

Mr Turnbull arrives in Auckland today on his first overseas trip in his new position. He will hold talks with Prime Minister John Key tomorrow after he meets him at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Auckland War Memorial Museum to mark the two country's common bonds.

Mr Key has said he will be "extremely direct" about the issue that divides them - New Zealanders being deported from the country they view as home.

Ms Russell, and others who have been held in detention centres, say they want Mr Key to do just that and for their voices to be heard clearly during the meeting.

More on the detention centre and deportation issue

They are among about 1000 New Zealanders whom Mr Key has estimated will fall foul of new rules introduced by Australia late last year. Under the new rules, non-citizens sentenced to more than a year in prison are liable for deportation. Those who appeal can be held in detention centres indefinitely while final decisions are being made.

Angela Russell

Angela Russell Photo: Supplied

Ms Russell, 40, moved to Australia as a three-year-old and faces deportation after serving a sentence for stealing perfume.

She said she was proud of her New Zealand citizenship but Australia was home and she needed to be back with her children.

She thought she would be allowed to stay eventually, she said, but described her detention as inhumane.

'Nowhere to go' for deported New Zealanders

Denny Amohanga is one of those who have lost their battle to stay in Australia.

He was seven when he left New Zealand and 40 when he was deported, leaving his parents, two children, siblings and school friends behind. His four-year-old daughter visits with an escort twice a year for five hours.

But he said he thought of himself as lucky.

"A lot of other people that are facing this situation don't have knowledge of their family, extended family or tribal connections here in New Zealand," he said.

"The only knowledge they have is their Australian values. The majority of deportees who have come back since me haven't lasted a month without being locked up in prison again."

Steel fences surround Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney, which has been used to house refugees and those facing deportation (2010).

Steel fences surround Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney (2010). Photo: Getty Images

He was held at Villawood Detention Centre for a year after serving nine months in jail for assault.

Two police officers dropped him at Auckland Airport and he stayed at a caravan park.

Mr Amohanga said he had been in contact with many of the remaining detainees as well as some of the estimated 100 people who have been deported in the last year. He said many had nowhere to go.

Accusation of coercion tactics

Erina Morunga

Iwi n Aus founder Erina Morunga Photo: SUPPLIED

One young man, Junior Togatuki, is believed to have committed suicide last month in detention after begging Australia's immigration minister not to deport him to New Zealand.

Iwi n Aus, an advocacy group set up for New Zealanders in Australia, said another New Zealander had been at Villawood Detention Centre for three years.

The group's founder, Erina Morunga, said she understood half of the estimated 200 New Zealanders being detained were being held on Christmas Island, where they were isolated from family and legal support.

"The feeling is that Christmas Island is becoming a haven to put Kiwis on. So we're not sure why that is going on," she said.

"It seems that there are lots of attempts to coerce New Zealanders into signing papers to be returned to New Zealand."

That strategy may be working, she said.

"We think it's because it's away from any of their support networks," she said. "It really breaks our guys emotionally and psychologically to be isolated that much.

"They can't see their families, they haven't get access to legal assistance."

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs