The Commonwealth Ombudsman, Ron McLeod, today released a report of his investigation into the events which led to a Pakistani refugee setting fire to himself outside Parliament House in April this year.

The refugee, Mr Shahraz Kiane, died as a result of his injuries on 27 May.

After Mr Kiane was granted refugee status in 1996, his wife and three young daughters sought permission to join him in Australia. The application was rejected.

In March 1998, Mr Kiane’s wife, Ms Yasmin, made a new application for a refugee visa, but after 16 months she was told by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) that the family’s application had again been unsuccessful.

DIMA informed Ms Yasmin that her application was rejected because the projected cost of caring for one of her daughters, who suffered from cerebral palsy, was excessive,’ Mr McLeod said. ‘But my examination of DIMA’s files raised serious concerns about the fairness and professionalism of its decision-making processes in this case, and suggested to me that the rejection was tainted by bias and irrelevant considerations, and that the decision maker failed to make appropriate use of the discretion available to waive the health criterion, as DIMA has done in a number of other cases.’

In response to the Ombudsman’s August 2000 report of his investigation, DIMA invited Ms Yasmin to lodge a third application, and undertook to process it expeditiously.

‘By April 2001, some six months after being assured that the application would be processed expeditiously, no decision had been made,’ Mr McLeod said. ‘On 2 April 2001, nearly four and a half years after his family’s first application to join him in Australia had been lodged, it would appear that Mr Kiane’s frustration and loss of hope of ever being reunited with his wife and daughters led to this desperate and tragic act.’

‘The history of this case is one of administrative ineptitude and broken promises,’ Mr McLeod said. ‘This delay does not seem to me to represent reasonable process, particularly given the humanitarian issues involved.’

Mr McLeod added that three months after her husband’s death and eleven months after being assured of expeditious treatment, Ms Yasmin’s application still had not been finalised.

Mr McLeod has recommended that the Migration Regulations be reviewed to make it easier and quicker for persons granted refugee status after their arrival in Australia to be permitted to have their immediate family members join them.

The Ombudsman stressed that his criticisms were not directed against the longstanding bipartisan policy requiring health costs to be considered, amongst other factors, in offshore humanitarian cases. However, where family reunion is involved, the Ombudsman thought the health costs criterion should be waived as a matter of course, on compassionate grounds.

‘My concern is that the detailed manner in which the policy is expressed and applied by DIMA can lead, as it has in this case, to unreasonable outcomes for some refugee families,’ he said.

The full text of the report is available on this website in the reports section.

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Date of release: 23 August 2001