Immigration cases sometimes do have happy endings. That’s the message
this morning with the return to Australia of Robert Jovicic, deported
to Serbia in 2004 and discovered there last November with no visible
means of support by the ABC’s Lateline.

At the time, the immigration department disclaimed all responsibility
for Jovicic’s plight. But wiser counsel has prevailed, and last week
Amanda Vanstone agreed to grant him a special purpose visa to return to Australia and reinstate his permanent residency here.

As AAP reports,
Jovicic arrived at Sydney airport this morning, “feeling overwhelmed
and exhausted”. “The last 18 months has been a very tough time for me”,
he said.

Jovicic spent time in prison for a string of burglaries to support his
heroin habit, which provided the justification for then-minister Philip
Ruddock to cancel his visa on character grounds and have have him
deported to Serbia. Trouble was, he had lived in Australia almost all
his life, had never been to Serbia, didn’t speak the language and
wasn’t recognised as a citizen by the Serbian government.

This morning he said he would apply for Australian citizenship, and
promised that he would be “a valued member of society”: “I want to
thank the Australian public who proved that the culture of a fair go is
an intrinsic part of our culture, even when someone has made mistakes
in their life … I trust that I can prove to you that your faith in me
was warranted.”

Given the immigration department’s record, it’s impossible to say how
many similar cases might be lurking undiscovered in different parts of
the world. But the symbolic policy of immigration “toughness” does seem
to be finally on the wane.

Peter Fray

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