Haneef gone, but blunders haunt Australia

By Neena Bhandari, IANS

Sydney : Muhammad Haneef is finally a free man, but the glaring mistakes made in his case will give Australia's Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Kevin Andrews many a sleepless night.

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A country of migrants, immigration has remained a thorny issue in Australia. Andrews' predecessors Amanda Vanstone and Phillip Ruddock also earned widespread wrath for wrongfully detaining, deporting and alleged mistreatment of immigrants in detention centres across Australia.

Criticism is brewing against the immigration minister, who has defended his decision not to reinstate Haneef's 457 work visa despite all the charges against him getting dropped. He was linked to the British bomb plot.

Haneef, 27, was in custody since July 2. On July 16, Andrews revoked the Indian doctor's visa after a Brisbane magistrate granted him bail. Haneef's legal team has lodged an appeal, scheduled for hearing Aug 8, in the Federal Court to have his work visa reinstated so he can one day return to live and work in Australia.

Andrews earlier told reporters that the Commonwealth Solicitor-General had found it was open for the minister to cancel Haneef's visa regardless of the charge being dropped.

Under Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958, non-citizens, who, because of their criminal record, do not satisfy the immigration minister that they are of good character, can be removed from the country.

But a strong critic of the Andrews' "outrageous" decision to cancel Haneef's visa, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie told Channel Ten: "Now frankly, I think Kevin Andrews has got a lot to answer for. The prime minister should at the very least be disciplining him, and I think he should be the subject of an inquiry. Little wonder that Australian people are saying they're a bit suss about what happened."

The Australian Council for Civil Liberties is planning to lodge public interest litigation to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity about the handling of Haneef's case by the immigration department, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Andrews has been implying that there was far more to the case than had been publicly revealed.

Andrews said Haneef's quick departure from Australia after terrorism charges against him were dropped looked more suspicious. He said: "If anything, that actually heightens rather than lessens my suspicion."

The police have admitted that there were irregularities in evidence and there was no prospect of conviction. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has acknowledged making "mistakes", but no one has taken responsibility for the blunders or apologised to Haneef.

Will this case have an impact on Indians wanting to migrate to Australian shores? Time will tell.

From 3,700 in 1995-96, the number of Indian migrants jumped to 11,286 in 2005-2006, reflecting the growth in the skilled migration programme.

As Haneef's case rocks the very foundations of the trust Australians gave their government in its fight against terrorism, they now want answers to how a person's basic human rights were so easily trampled upon.