Here we go again? After wrongly detaining Australian citizen Cornelia Rau and mistakenly deporting Vivian Alvarez Solon, the Immigration Department is again in hot water over its treatment of an immigrant. Last night ABC TV’s Lateline
broke the story of Robert Jovicic (pictured below) – an Australian
resident of 36 years who has been left stateless and destitute in
Serbia after being deported there last year.

a 38-year-old permanent resident who arrived in Australia from France
with his Serbian-born parents when he was two, was deported on
character grounds in June 2004 after notching up a criminal record for
a string of burglaries he committed to support a heroin addiction. But
Jovicic is not a citizen of Serbia, having been born in France, and
knows virtually no-one there, except for his estranged father.

turned up three nights ago “destitute” and “ill,” in freezing
temperatures outside the Australian embassy in the Serbian capital
Belgrade – in “a country he’d never lived in, with a language he didn’t
speak,” reports Lateline‘s Margot O’Neill. “The Serbian
Government has refused to recognise him as a citizen, leaving him
stateless and with no right to work or to welfare.”

family back in Australia was alerted to his plight after a phone call
from Australia’s Ambassador to Serbia, John Oliver. The embassy told
Jovicic’s sister, Susanna, they had arranged for him to have a medical
examination and three nights accommodation in Belgrade – as a
compassionate gesture.

“Robert is rapidly approaching a
situation where as far as I can tell he has no visible means of support
and his health and welfare are deteriorating,” wrote Oliver in an
email. “Most importantly, Robert needs to know the extent to which
friends and family in Australia or Serbia can and will support him. I
know this may sound harsh, but I believe it is the reality.”

The family are now appealing to the Federal Government to send Jovicic home. “Robert is Australian,” said Susanna Jovicic on Lateline.
“You can’t just throw someone who’s been here all their lives and calls
this place his home and just dump them somewhere else. I mean, he
wasn’t even born there.”

Labor’s immigration spokesman Tony Burke agrees, reports The Age,
and says it was too harsh a punishment for the crimes he had committed.
“Nobody should ever be rendered stateless,” he told ABC TV. “We’ve got
a problem now of a punishment that appears to be going on in his life
that is way out of whack, completely disproportionate to the crimes
that’s reported that he’s been convicted of.”

But a statement to Lateline
from the Immigration Department said Jovicic has a substantial criminal
record and that the then Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock’s used his
discretion to cancel his visa under the Migration Act, meaning Jovicic
will be permanently excluded from Australia.