Formally recognised Traditional Owners who have spent most of their lives on the Torres Strait Islands have been detained for months on end and fear they will be deported to Papua New Guinea.
Daniel Gibuma, a 54-year-old grandfather, is one of at least half a dozen Indigenous men currently being held in Western Australia’s Yongah Hill Detention Centre, 100km from Perth.
He completed a six-month jail sentence for an assault conviction in January and was met by Border Force officials upon his release.
“I thought I'd done my time and that I was going home to my family in Edmonton in South Cairns, but they took me and brought me to Western Australia,” he told NITV.
Mr Gibuma was born in PNG but was adopted by his Uncle at age seven to live on Boigu – Queensland’s most northerly island.
“I lived there and never went back to PNG, (and I) met my wife and my children and lived in Australia until this day,” he said.
Mr Gibuma said for the first five months of his detention, his wife and 10 children did not know where he was.
“They didn't tell my wife what happened to me. I let her know,” he said.
“We've got no touch screens and no telephones, but I asked a guy here in detention to help me with a telephone and I called my wife. Luckily, I remembered her number. Then my daughter sent me a phone.”
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 automatically received Australian citizenship at birth.
However, after the Australian Government passed legislation in 1975, thousands of Australians had their citizenship revoked and were placed on Permanent Stay Visas, often without their knowledge.
It wasn't until 2014, when the federal government made amendments to Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958, that people like Mr Gibuma found themselves suddenly stateless.
The amendments have brought about far-reaching powers for visa cancellation on character grounds, including where people engage in criminal conduct in Australia. Criminal conduct may be interpreted as traffic offences, or being a public nuisance. These visa revocations have increased significantly since 2015.
“I don't have a lawyer and I don't know what is happening," said Mr Gibuma. "I feel like I am in double jeopardy here. If they deport me, where will I go? What will I do? I have only ever lived on Boigu."
Mr Gibuma’s brother, Jerry Dau, was also detained for two years on Christmas Island following 11 months in jail for sexual assault and other offences. Mr Dau was deported to Port Moresby four weeks ago.
“I tried to fight it in court, but I didn't even have a lawyer,” he told NITV from the PNG island of Daru.
Stephen Lawrence, a NSW barrister who regularly works on immigration cases, said the situation is the result of “draconian” amendments introduced in 2014 by Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton.
“It is fair to say that this is an extraordinary use of immigration powers against immigrant communities that has never been seen before in Australia,” he said.
“The revocation of residency rights is becoming increasingly common and is having a massive effect in Islander and other immigrant communities in Australia.
“Tragically there are also reports that Indigenous families are being effected because of cross border migration in the 70's that has left people caught up in the changes to citizenship law that followed PNG independence in 1975."
A wide range of people have been scooped up into the immigration detention system, said Mr Lawrence, icluding those who unknowingly lost Australian citizenship when PNG became an independent State.
“Every decade sees a strengthening of the bureaucratic state in Australia and the tightening of migration act powers," he said.
A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said the department was aware of the situation faced by Daniel Gibuma and Jerry Dau, but declined to answer as to how registered Native Title holders could not be recognised as Australian citizens.
In response, the Department issued a statement that said it does not comment on individual cases due to privacy reasons.
– This story has be written in partnership with regional Queensland newspaper, Torres News.