• TSI community question arrival of police officer a day after he worked in Brisbane. (NITV News )Source: NITV News
A Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner spent two years in immigration detention in Western Australia, now he's worried about what will happen to him if he returns to Country.
By
Aaron Smith

Source:
NITV News
18 May 2020 - 2:42 PM  UPDATED 18 May 2020 - 2:42 PM

Torres Strait Islander Daniel Gibuma said he "lost everything" after spending 28 months in Western Australia's Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre.

After his release, Mr Gilbuma said he feels that he is living under "house arrest."

"When I was locked up, Mum passed away in 2018. Then my brother passed away, then his son died soon after, and they wouldn't let me out for the funerals," Mr Gibuma told NITV News this week, from his family home in the Cairns suburb of Edmonton.

"Then my baby girl, my youngest, got involved with a man and had a kid, and I was not there to support her. Then she had a second baby that I missed being part of, that felt hard for me because I couldn't be there to protect her, guide or give advice."

Mr Gibuma's family name is registered on the Native Title Register as Traditional Owners of the Torres Strait Island of Boigu, the northern most point of Australia's territory.

However, Mr Gibuma said it wasn't until Australian Border Force received a letter signed by 26 Elders from his community last month stating that he was a Traditional Owner that he was finally released quietly on April 16.

The Department of Home Affairs approached Mr Gibuma two days after a landmark High Court ruling on February 11 found Aboriginal Australians cannot be considered "aliens" under the constitution.

Born in Papua New Guinea's Western Province in 1964 when the region was still an Australian external territory, Mr Gibuma was culturally adopted to his uncle on Boigu at the age of seven where he grew up.

Like many people living in Australia who were born in PNG prior to independence in 1975 – when it was still an Australian territory, Mr Gibuma believed he automatically received Australian citizenship at birth.

He has worked in Australia, paid taxes, voted and received Medicare and Centrelink benefits throughout his life.

However, after changes to legislation in 1975, thousands of Australians had their citizenship revoked and were placed on Permanent Stay Visas - often without their knowledge.

Then an amendment to the 501 section of the Citizenship Act 1958 by the Minister of Home Affairs in 2014 allowed visas to be revoked and rights to reside in Australia removed on character grounds, after a lifetime total of 12 months jail sentence has been accrued. This resulted in several First Nation people, like Mr Gibuma, being held in detention centres and even deported.

"Every day inside I would be thinking today they may come and take me and deport me," Mr Gibuma said.

"I saw how there were grabbing people from the centre, the Serco security that works for immigration.

"I would think tonight they will come into my room at 2am, 3am grab me and say 'off you go,' that's what they were doing, but then when we were able to get the touchscreens (phones) inside, they slowed down then as we were filming them and putting it on the 501 (Facebook) page.

'It's all there, what they do to us, mistreat us, torture us, we name and shamed them there."

'Locked me up'

Mr Gibuma said that after the High Court ruling in February, he didn't understand why there were still First Nation people in detention, including several Torres Strait Islanders.

"Akee Charlie has been there five years now. Why? Tony Charlie, I don't know how many years, and now they put him in a home as he is so old, and Andrew Kabe, he was at home with two months left on his parole, and they went round and grabbed him, and he is still there after two years, why?"

Mr Gibuma's brother-in-law, Jerry Dau, also a registered Traditional Owner from Boigu was deported to PNG in 2018 after four years in Yongah Hill and two years on Christmas Island. Mr Dau has not seen his family for six years.

Mr Gibuma said as well as Mr Dau he knew of three other Torres Strait Islanders who have been deported to PNG, including Tony Charlie's son Daniel Charlie who has spent seven years in detention and two years homeless and stateless in Port Moresby.

Mr Gibuma finished serving a six-month sentence for assault Lotus Glen Prison in Mareeba on January 26 2018, when he was taken to Yongah Hill.

"When I signed out my property from Lotus Glen Border Force were waiting at reception, and they took me straight to Yongah Hill and locked me up," Mr Gibuma said.

"It took six months until I was able to get access to a phone and called my family back in Cairns, and only because I could remember the number - they had no idea what happened to me or where I was.

"It took me nearly a year of being locked up until I was able to find a lawyer."

'Like a trap'

When Mr Gibuma was finally released last month he received a single-page document from the Department of Home Affairs titled 'Statement of Identity' which had his full name, date of birth, his incarnation details and his citizenship listed as 'PNG National'.

"When I asked my Border Force case manager what my status was, or if I have a visa, and which visa I have, they just said I was the same as before and to stay out of trouble.

"But when I came out, I could go to Centrelink, so I think I must be a resident, but they wouldn't tell me.

"A lot of the guys that come out, they don't get Centrelink and have to rely on family to survive. They send them out on a bridging visa, so they do not get Centrelink, and they can't work."

Mr Gibuma said after COVID-19 travel restrictions to the Torres Strait are lifted he wants to return for the remainder of the crayfish season, the only work he has ever done.

"But I am frightened of the Border Force, a lot of our traditional fishing grounds are right on the border and what if they don't let me back in. I asked if I can fish under the Torres Strait Treaty and they said yes, but I am still worried.

"Border Force want to know everywhere I move and everything I do, if I change my phone number or address, they want me to tell them if I want to go back to Boigu. I have to tell them.

"I have to be very careful now; it feels like a trap. I feel like I have lost everything.

"It is like something being in house arrest."

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