15 Dec 2015

Deportee's South Island fresh start soon turns sour

8:12 am on 15 December 2015

A convicted armed robber who has lived in Australia since he was nine and has just been deported to Invercargill fears he is on the brink of returning to a life of crime.

Despite his lengthy criminal history, he is under no supervision here.

The 28-year-old is also jobless, cannot pay his rent, and wants government help beyond his $200 a week benefit.

Christmas Island Detention Centre

Andre spent time at Christmas Island and Yongah Hill immigration detention centres. Photo: Wikicommons

The man, whom RNZ has agreed to name only as Andre, says he has applied for more than 50 jobs, but no one wants to hire a man who's been doing armed robberies since he was 14.

When Andre was transferred from Australia to Christchurch, he said waiting for him were police officers ready to fingerprint him and take samples of his DNA. He said at that point, he had a sinking feeling he would never escape his past.

"I was just so happy to start again but it's turning out more difficult than I thought," he said.

"I'm just sitting around at home, applying for jobs and having no success. I'm finding it really hard to pay my rent at the moment."

Andre is living in Invercargill, the home town of his only New Zealand relatives.

He has no case worker to talk to, no parole officer, no friends and nothing to do.

"Back in the day in Australia, I was a dangerous man," he said.

"I'm scared - scared I'll lose my house and I'm going to resort to what I know. I really don't want to but feel like I've got no options and am backed in a corner.

"I miss my mum, she's the only one who can keep me out of trouble and she's not here, and my daughter - if I had her I wouldn't be thinking like this."

He considers himself an Australian and said he should be Australia's problem, but signed a form revoking his Australian visa anyway to return for a fresh start.

In October, a group called People At Risk Solutions (PARS) was given $100,000 by Corrections to help people just like Andre.

It can meet former detainees at the airport, put them up in a motel, help them set up a bank account and IRD number, and most importantly, help them find work.

Soon after arriving home, Andre picked up the phone.

"I've actually called them three or four times and they said they couldn't help as they're in Dunedin and I'm in Invercargill," he said.

"All they did was call Salvation Army and set up that food pack for me."

RNZ asked the chief executive of PARS, Tui Ah Loo, why it could not help Andre.

She said the group was only mandated to support deported detainees, not those who chose to leave Australia.

But Corrections said that was not the case and Andre was eligible for help from PARS.

"Corrections considers that if someone chooses to return because their visa has been revoked and they are in a detention centre then they should also be able to access this service," said Lynnette Cave, operations director northern region.

"We have discussed this matter with PARS and they are in agreement with our view on who qualifies for this service."

Ms Cave told Morning Report Andre was not subject to supervision because he was sentenced before a new regime was introduced, but can still get help. "We do have specialist probation officers, education and employment. They would be happy to discuss with Andre and link him into possible job opportunities."

The $100,000 grant to PARS covers all returning offenders until 30 June next year, when Corrections will look at whether a further grant is necessary.

To date, more than 50 people have returned to New Zealand under Australia's new immigration rules, of which 41 are subject to a supervision regime.

But an advocate for detainees, Erina Anderson-Morunga, said there was still no solid plan in place to help former detainees who choose to come home.

"I've had guys say they would rather be on Christmas Island, they didn't think it would be so difficult returning to New Zealand," she said.

"In fact, the guys under the new law are finding it even harder. They're being sent here with literally just the clothes on their backs."

For Andre, who once ordered 10 pizzas while robbing Pizza Hut because food was just as important as money, he said his current situation was rock bottom.

He came back to the country he left when he was nine because he wanted to be a success story and to show his mates back in detention that there was a better life.

But right now, he said he's close to letting bad thoughts get the best of him.

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