Robert Jovicic, the Australian resident who was deported from Australia to Serbia in 2005, will be declared an unlawful non-citizen by the Federal Government next week as they attempt to return him to Serbia, reports The SMH.

And yet the Department continues to insist that Robert apply for Serbian citizenship — a confirmation from the department that he’s categorically not Serbian.

Robert, for his part, continues to refuse to apply for Serbian citizenship. He is not and does not want to be a Serbian citizen. That is his right. Because of his refusal, Robert is set to be detained in Villawood detention centre on the 5th of February ahead of deportation.

Robert Jovicic, like many other permanent residents who arrived in Australia as minors, accompanied his immigrant parents on their arrival in Australia as a two-year-old.

Robert simply did not realise, and was never told, that he needed to “apply” for Australian citizenship. He spent 38 years of his life here from infancy.

But the new Department now asserts that Robert is actually “Serbian”, even though he was not born there (he was born in France) can’t speak the language and knows nobody there except for his estranged alcoholic father.

Robert’s parents, who became Australian citizens, were born in Serbia but that is his only connection to the country.

If Robert agrees to apply for Serbian citizenship, he must pledge allegiance to Serbia — but he’s concerned about the message this will send to Australia, his home. His allegiance would be to a country he knows nothing about.

In her letter to Robert in March last year advising him that he was allowed to return home on compassionate grounds, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone wrote:

Shortly after you arrive back in Australia I may consider revoking that (special purpose) visa and issuing you with a Resident Return Visa (RRV). The RRV will then enable you to remain in Australia and give you access to Medicare & Income Support Benefits.

I trust that on your return to Australia you will respect our laws and there will not be a need to consider further action pursuant to Section 501 of the act.

Vanstone told SBS Radio:

I’m looking forward to Mr Jovicic demonstrating to me and the wider community that he is able to change his patterns of behaviour that led to the initial decision to cancel his visa.

There is no denying that Robert had problems with mental health and engaged in criminal activity to support his heroin addiction, and this certainly caused problems within the community. Nobody has ever refuted that. But Robert is not the only Australian to have committed a crime.

Most importantly, today, Robert is currently working for a roller door company, and he is paying taxes. He is rehabilitating his health as best as he can without access to Medicare (that initial offer by Vanstone, under compassionate grounds, was revoked). Robert has remained off heroin and all other drugs of addiction. He has not committed any crimes since 2000.

Perhaps what we “owe” Robert is to understand the bigger issue relating to the history of character test deportations, the changes made in 1998 and subsequent potential abuse and administrative problems resulting from those changes.

The Federal Ombudsman’s Report into DIMA — Administration of S 501 of the Migration Act 1958 as it applies to long-term residents and the Senate Legal & Constitutional References Committee both concluded the same thing – that S 501 removals should not apply to permanent residents who came here as minors.

Peter Fray

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