Wednesday 25 April 2018

Young Irishman (26) fighting for release after wrongful detention by armed police in Australia

Bernard Lee
Bernard Lee

Robin Schiller

The family of a young Irishman who was detained in error by armed police in Perth are appealing for the Australian government to release him.

Bernard Lee (26), who is originally from Greystones, Co Wicklow, has been living and working legally in Western Australia for the past seven years.

However on Monday evening he was arrested by armed police and immigration officers at the home he shares with his partner in Highgate, Perth.

Authorities claimed that he had been issued a letter refusing his application for a resident’s visa and cancelling his current business visa, and that he was in breach of the 20-day period to leave the country.

Bernard Lee had recently applied for an employer-sponsored residents’ visa before his detention.

Neither Mr Lee nor his Australian lawyer dealing with the case on his behalf had received such a letter.

He was taken away by armed police to a detention centre run by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), which is located 90km northeast of Perth, where he has since been detained.

Officers for the DIBP have admitted to Mr Lee’s family they made a mistake and that no such letter was ever issued to Bernard or his lawyer. However, they have not committed to any intention of releasing him.

The Wicklow man’s family have said that an appeal process against the wrongful detention could take weeks or months, and are pleading with Australian officials to release him.

“Bernard does not want to appeal the decision of the Department of Immigration and Border Control because we have been advised that such appeals take months or years, during which time the person is kept in detention. He just wants to come home on the flight he booked for next week,” Bernard’s father Norman told the Irish Independent.

“We have been advised that the Australian Immigration authorities regularly detain people in this facility for months without reason while they process paperwork,” said his brother Robert.

“My mum is seriously ill and has intense migraines from worrying about it,” he added.

Ironically, Bernard had booked a flight out of Australia for next Wednesday to join his Australian girlfriend in Europe, where they plan to celebrate his brother’s engagement with his family in Ireland.

The immigration lawyer has however advised that, based on his experience of Australian immigration system, it is unlikely that Bernard will be allowed to take his flight out of Australia and will instead be incarcerated for weeks or months.

The detention centre, Yongah Hill in Northam in Western Australia, is composed of four compounds.

It made international news last September when a 40 year old man doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire, after being held there for about eight months.

A 27-year-old detainee had also died there shortly beforehand, after being held for three years.

Over the last year, there has also been a focus on violent brawls involving detainees at the centre, which houses convicted criminals, asylum seekers and others.

The family are appealing for the assistance of anyone in Australia who may be able to help secure Bernard’s release from detention, to allow him to come home to Ireland.

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