Another "granny": locked in isolation, in breach of detention standards

Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Western Australia 6312
Phone: 0417 090 130

Another "granny": locked in isolation, in breach of detention standards

Media Release
Monday March 14 2005 06:00am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

  • Vietnamese speaking woman of high age in detention, no interpreter
  • Woman of high age, isolated in locked room for 14 hours a day
  • Female with medical condition can only report her condition to Vietnamese males
  • All DIMIA detention standards trampled: gender, age, language, culture

Another shocking story has emerged of a grandmother of high age held in abysmal breach of the Department of Immigration's detention standards in all its essential respects, this time in the Perth detention centre, and Fremantle hospital Director Surgeon Professor David Fletcher, Mandurah refugee advocate Kaye Bernard and Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit are in agreement that standards of detention care are seriously breached - by DIMIA and its detention centre operator GSL - with regards to all of its four elements of 'culturally, linguistically, gender and age appropriatenesss' of the person's detention.

74-year-old frail Vietnamese refugee claimant Thi Tu Nguyen was recently for the second time flown from her holding camp at the Christmas Island detention facility, where she has been detained for almost two years (since July 2003) with the other passengers of the boat the 'Hao Kiet', to Perth because of a medical condition - an eye condition needing specialist treatment.

On a previous occasion her adopted daughter accompanied her to Western Australia, and Ms Nguyen was 'detained' in a Perth motel room for the duration of her stay, but this time Ms Nguyen arrived in Perth on her own to be promptly locked up in the Perth Airport detention centre as the only female inmate amidst visa-overstayers and criminal deportees. For fourteen hours each day Ms Nguyen is being locked up in a cell by herself.

The Department of Immigration detained her as the only woman together with 14 males in the Perth Immigration Detention Centre without an interpreter, and the detention centre operator GSL relies on some other Vietnamese-speaking men in the compound to tell them what Ms Nguyen is saying.

The West Australian Branch of the Vietnamese Community wrote last week to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, offering accommodation for Ms Nguyen in its Perth Buddhist Temple, but the group has failed in its attempts to rectify what they also see as a highly inappropriate situation (letter reproduced below).

During the weekend the frail aged woman was visited in the centre by refugee supporter Kaye Bernard together with Prof David Fletcher, Director Surgeon at the Fremantle hospital, who was on Christmas Island to provide consultations as a surgeon to the Hao Kiet refugees in November last year. On that occasion Dr Fletcher also performed surgery on Ms Nguyen's grandson.

Professor Fletcher said yesterday that he was ashamed at Ms Nguyen's treatment in the Perth detention centre. After his visit he told Project SafeCom that Ms Nguyen was detained in a locked room by herself for 14 hours each day, from 6pm to 8am the next morning. "I'm just ashamed to be an Australian," Dr Fletcher said, "this is an old lady, she has no freedom whatsoever, and her detention is totally inappropriate. The centre in which this lady is detained, has double razor wire, you're escorted at every moment around the place and she is held separated from the others while there is no communication."

"There is clearly a medical problem, a gynecological problem, but while Ms Nguyen can ring a bell for help [from her locked-up room] if she needs this, the guards cannot understand her language."

During his visit to the Perth detention centre, Dr Fletcher has also quizzed the guards on whether they had any training at all, upon which the guards had told him that they had undergone a six-week training course in security matters and fire training, and when asked, they told him this included 'psychology' and 'culturally appropriate care'.

Mandurah refugee advocate Kaye Bernard stated that is evident that the Department of Immigration is clearly in breach of its standards of detention care, as stated on the DIMIA website: 'Respect for and the dignity of immigration detainees is to be observed and maintained in culturally, linguistically, gender and age appropriate ways.'

Refugee advocates will converge at the front of the Perth detention centre tonight at 6pm for a vigil and protest; they will "grab their grannies" to join them for the short trip to the Perth airport detention centre (details below).

  • Photo of Ms Nguyen is available from Project SafeCom on request
  • 3-D computer graphics and plans of the Perth Immigration Detention Centre are available from Perth activist Peter on [phone number inserted]

For more information:

Prof David R Fletcher MBBS, MD, FRACS
Surgeon, Fremantle Hospital
[phone number posted]

Kaye Bernard
Refugee advocate
[phone number posted]

Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]

The "Grab your Granny" Protest: vigil at Perth detention centre

6-7pm, Monday 14 March 2005

Dear all,

From Ms Kaye Bernard, who worked together with Betty Cuthbert for the cases of the Hao Kiet Vietnamese asylum seekers on Christmas Island, comes this alert to come together at the Perth Airport Detention Centre to express your feelings about DIMIA's treatment of a 74-year-old Vietnamese "granny", who's locked up in Perth because she has been flown from Christmas Island for medical treatment of an eye condition.

The following details are relevant:

1. During a previous visit from Christmas Island for medical treatment Thi Tu Nguyen was held, accompanied by her adopted daughter Thi Tuyet, in a Perth motel whilst undergoing treatment.

This time she came on her own, and DIMIA locked her up in the Perth detention centre.

2. Thi Tu does not speak English; there is no interpreter in the Perth detention centre. DIMIA uses the "free services" of other detainees in the centre to try and understand what Thi Tu says.

3. Thi Tu is the ONLY woman in the Perth detention centre, held together with 14 men. Many of the men are reportedly 'criminal deportees'.

4. She is 74 years old, and if any of you and me represent any danger to the security of Australia as a nation .... well, Thi Tu certainly does not!

So, "Grab your Granny" and bring her along to the Granny Vigil at Perth Detention Centre!

DIMIA's current count for Perth Detention Centre stands at fourteen men and one old lady, see:

The Immigration Minister must intervene, and as a matter of urgency must release Grandma into a community care placement as a person with special needs. DIMIA "guarantees":

"Respect for and the dignity of immigration detainees is to be observed and maintained in culturally, linguistically, gender and age appropriate ways".


6pm until 7pm
Monday 14 March 2005

Perth Detention Centre
Corner Baker & McComb Roads
Redcliffe WA 6104

Head down the main drag to the Perth Domestic Airport go thru the roundabout before you get to the terminal, look to the left and spot the razorwire...

Kaye Bernard (08) 9535-6660

A page about the Hao Kiet Vietnamese asylum seekers on the Project SafeCom website:


Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Narrogin WA 6312
phone: 041 70 90 130

Statement from the Vietnamese Community in Australia (WA branch)

The Vietnamese Community in Australia (WA branch) faxed DIMIA last Friday with an alternative arrangement offer, along these lines:

"It has come to our attention that Thi Tu Nguyen is being held in detention at the Perth Detention Centre. It is our understanding that women and children are not normally held there."

"Due to Thi Tu's medical condition plus her age, gender and vulnerability we are particularly concerned about her and the level of care that can be afforded her in the facility."

"The Vietnamese Community in Australia request that Thi Tu be detained at more appropriate facility during her time in Perth."

"We offer to assist DIMIA by providing the facilities available at the Money Street Buddhist Temple with the full support of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, to ensure she has appropriate culturally sensitive care and companionship."

Rally calls for Gran's release

The West Australian
Monday 14 March 2005
Page 13
by Norman Aisbett

A frail 74-year-old-Vietnamese Grandmother is being held in the Immigration Department's detention centre at Perth Airport and Kaye Bernard is determined to get her out.

The Mandurah housewife and mother of six, wrote to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone on Friday asking that Mrs Thi Tu Nguyen be urgently moved into community care.

Mrs Bernard told the Minister that Mrs Nguyen was the only woman among 14 male asylum seekers, visa overstayers and criminal deportees.

Mrs Nguyen was flown to Perth from Christmas Island two weeks ago for cataract surgery but reportedly also has a leg problem that could extend her stay another month or two.

Mrs Bernard said yesterday she was not happy with the Minister's response The West Australian Newspaper on the issue.

Senator Vanstone said yesterday Mrs Nguyen was placed in the airport detention centre in readiness for surgery, which was subsequently delayed, and because there were other people from Christmas Island whom she knew.

"If her stay is to be extended, the department will consider an appropriate community care," Senator Vanstone said.

Mrs Bernard said: "The Minister has acknowledged there is a problem with a little old lady, otherwise she wouldn't be considering moving her into the community, but she is not prepared to act on it today."

"One more day could be enough for something to go wrong."

"Mrs Nguyen doesn't speak English. What would happen if she had a heart attack in the middle of the night?"

"Who would understand what she was saying?"

"And What about her showering? Even if a female guard could help, how would Mrs Nguyen communicate with her."

Mrs Bernard, 44, said that after being alerted by her, the Vietnamese Community Association had also written to Senator Vanstone to offer community placement for Mrs Nguyen.

Mrs Bernard called on Perth people to take their grandmothers to a vigil outside the domestic terminal detention centre building between 6pm and 7pm today.

Mrs Nguyen was among 53 Vietnamese boat people who reached Port Hedland on July 1 2003.

Eleven have since been accepted as refugees and the rest have been detained on Christmas Island while awaiting the outcome of their applications.

Mrs Bernard - "an ordinary, happily married Australian mum who runs kids to basketball" - got involved after reading about the Vietnamese group, which is comprised mostly of extended family members.

With the support of husband Tim, she flew to Christmas Island in November to meet the group and offer a hand of friendship.

"They are no different to the refugees we welcomed from Vietnam in the 70's and 80's and then, all of a sudden they are getting locked up." she said. "It's disgraceful."

Mrs Bernard said Australians had nothing to fear from the Vietnamese group. "They are genuine and humble," she said.

"I hope people will attend the vigil to show that average Aussies do not condone this treatment of old ladies."

She said the situation had only arisen because of Australia's "crazy" policy of remote detention and compared Mrs Nguyen's case with that of Cornelia Rau, the mentally ill woman who was listed missing by her family last year but was locked up in prison and immigration detention for 10 months after being mistaken for an illegal immigrant.

"I was informed by a detainee who was doing his best to keep an eye on Mrs Nguyen, " Mrs Bernard said. "The same thing happened with Cornelia Rau. Is it up to detainees to raise these issues?"

Former Federal police chief Mick Palmer is investigating the Rau case and was due to report later this month but Senator Vanstone has said he will need more time.

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