Broken man sues over years behind wire

Sydney Morning Herald
August 13 2005

He fled Iran only to find himself a victim of the immigration system, writes Adele Horin.

It took the Federal Government three years to decide Parviz Yousefi and his family were genuine refugees. But by then it was too late.

He was a broken man, suffering major depression, and possible brain injury, incapable of initiating a conversation, or holding down a job.

Now the once outgoing, football-mad oil worker from Iran is suing the Government and the private operators of the Woomera and Baxter detention centres for more than $750,000 for wages for the rest of his life, and medical care, claiming he has suffered permanent psychiatric damage due to his horrific experiences behind the wire.

A statement of claim lodged in the Supreme Court of NSW yesterday alleges the authorities ignored 15 reports from medical experts, 11 from psychiatrists. The reports described his severe illness and suicidal tendencies, and urged he be moved from detention to receive help. But he spent three years locked up, between April 2001 and June 2004.

Rebecca Gilsenan, a lawyer at Maurice Blackburn Cashman, said Mr Yousefi's situation was similar to that of Cornelia Rau. "He showed clear signs of serious mental illness from as early as April 2002 in Woomera," she said. "But the Department of Immigration and the centre operators treated him as a troublemaker."

Yesterday Mr Yousefi's wife, Mehrnoosh, 35, recalled her husband as a happy person with lots of friends and a strong sense of family responsibility. They fled Iran in October 2000, due mainly to her strongly held political views about women's rights, which put them both in danger.

"At first in detention he was OK," she said. "He worked in the kitchen, in the dining room and in the garden. He played cards and football sometimes. He kept up his spirits."

But an accumulation of traumas in Woomera - riots, fires, aggression, water cannons, tear gas and attempted suicides - took their toll: "Always horror there," Mrs Yousefi said.

The family was separated for nine months after Mrs Yousefi and their son, Manoocher, now 14, were sent to live in supervised housing. For up to eight weeks at a time she had no phone contact with her husband.

Mr Yousefi stopped washing, shaving or changing clothes. He went on hunger strikes and sewed his lips together. He lost hope as others got visas, and he began to fear deportation. Several times he tried to hang himself, and was hospitalised.

It is claimed he was suffering major depression, post-traumatic- stress disorder, paranoia and psychosis, and that the Government ignored pleas to treat his case as a "medical and psychiatric emergency".

Against medical advice, the family was transferred to the Baxter detention centre.

"Thirty guards came for us in riot gear," Mrs Yousefi said. "They beat my son, confiscated his English books; they beat my husband in his stomach, his legs, and handcuffed him till his hands turned black."

Mrs Yousefi said her husband had not recovered. On good days he walks into the garden.

If the process had been shorter, or they had been allowed to live in the community, her husband would be well today. "We have lost our life," she said.

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