As Darko Desic is released from prison, Darko Desic faces deportation to a country that no longer exists | Australian immigration and asylum

Ssometime next year, Darko Desic will complete a prison sentence handed down in 1990 – interrupted by three decades of freedom – to face the bizarre prospect of being deported to a country that no longer exists.

Desic’s case, with its cinematic plot and redemptive arc, has attracted international attention and seen his communities on Sydney’s northern beaches gather for help.

A plea for mercy under New South Wales’ rarely invoked royal prerogative for mercy is currently with the Attorney General.

But his case is also one of a growing trend towards deportation and indefinite immigration detention in Australia, where say experts it is “harder to become a member of Australian society and easier to be expelled from it”.

A secretive existence

“I think,” said the skinny, bearded man to stunned officers at the front desk of Dee Why police station on a quiet September Sunday, “you have been looking for me.”

As long as the police had actually been looking for Desic, they had stopped searching.

Desic had been sentenced to a maximum of three years and eight months in prison in 1990 after being convicted of two counts of cannabis cultivation.

But in July 1992 – 19 months into his sentence – he used a hacksaw blade to cut through the bars of his cell in Grafton Prison and bolt cutters to cut through the fence and fled.

He fled, he said, to avoid being deported at the end of his sentence to his home country of Yugoslavia, which was then about to fall into a brutal civil war, and from which he had fled as a teenager in the 1970s to escape the compulsory military service.

Yugoslavia collapsed in the early 1990s. The country to which Desic legally belongs no longer exists. The Adriatic port city of Jablanac, where he grew up, is now part of Croatia.

In the 29 years since his escape, Desic had built a life on the edge.

He had never had a Medicare card – when his teeth rotted, he himself had pulled them out with pliers. He could not apply to Centrelink for help. He walked or took a bus to every job because he could not get a driver’s license.

Darko Desic broke out of NSW prison nearly 30 years ago and surrendered himself to police in Dee Why in September.
Darko Desic broke out of NSW prison nearly 30 years ago and surrendered himself to police in Dee Why in September. Photo: NSW Police

It was a secretive life, but hardly lonely: his had also been a life of friendship, work, community, and reciprocity.

He was a craftsman, he had taught himself stonemasonry and worked cash in hand, where he fixed leases for local real estate agents. He manned the box in a local bottle shop.

He was “Dougie”To his community.

But Desic’s freedom had always been uncertain, and the Covid-19 pandemic saw the net up close. His work dried out. The overturned house he shared with a buddy in Avalon, filled with an umbrella over the uncovered outdoor dune, was sold, and he slept in the dunes behind the beach.

He confided in a friend.

“Dear, I’ve committed the crime, so I’m taking care of it.”

A police source put it bluntly: “He gave himself up to get a roof over his head.”

Magistrate Jennifer Atkinson sentenced Desic to two months in prison, on top of completing her original sentence.

“He’s really changed over time,” she said. “In addition, he has shown remorse and remorse by handing himself over to the police.”

But Atkinson said there was no alternative to jail for the felony of escaping custody.

“He chose to take tools and break out of the detention center … I accept that he had real fears about what might happen to him [if sent to Yugoslavia]. “

Desic’s ruling expires on December 29, 2022.

“Sydney has been my home”

It’s what happens after jail that worries Desic the most.

The Australian Border Guard has written to him to tell him that at the end of his sentence, his visa will be canceled and he will be taken directly from jail to immigration prison before being removed from Australia.

“He’s not complaining, but he’s definitely very stressed,” his lawyer Paul McGirr told the Guardian.

Darko Desic's lawyer Paul McGirr at Sydney's Central Local Court on 28 October 2021. McGirr's client, 64-year-old refugee Darko Desic.
Darko Desic’s lawyer Paul McGirr at Sydney’s central local court in October. ‘Grace is not something we want to seek in all matters, but there is a huge wave of support from society.’ Photo: Joel Carrett / AP

“With the prospect of being sent away from Australia to a place he does not know, one could imagine what it would feel like – to be locked up in a small cell and unable to control anything. We are all trying to do the best we can for him. “

His community has gathered. Locals on the northern beaches have offered him a job, a home, and a GoFundMe site has raised more than $ 34,000.

Through his lawyer, Desic said this week: “I have tried to be the best person I can in the beach community and I owe all the people who support me the world.

“I see myself as an Australian and hope the government will understand that Sydney has been my home for almost half of my life.”

‘Thoroughly inhuman’

McGirr has filed a petition, backed by members of Desic’s family and community, seeking pardon over his sentence in hopes of preventing deportation.

Darko Desic
Darko Desic surrendered himself to police after 29 years on the run. Photo: Included

He seeks commuting below royal mercy, a broad discretion that technically lies with the NSW Governor, who acts on the advice of his ministers.

There is no legal restriction on the use of force, but it remains, insists in government documents, “exercised only in rare and extraordinary circumstances where it is necessary in the public interest”.

It is not an appeal, nor is it an acquittal.

The petition is now with the State Attorney General, Mark Speakman.

His spokesman confirmed that “the public prosecutor will advise the governor on the case”.

Desic’s visa status was a matter for the Commonwealth government, the spokesman said.

“This is a unique case,” McGirr told the Guardian. “Grace is not something we want to seek in all matters, but there is a huge wave of support from society.

‘No winner of a 64-year-old man sitting in a cell and worrying about what will happen if he is released. This man has lived a life without crime for 30 years: he does not claim to be perfect, but he has lived a good life. He has worked and contributed, he has helped people in his community.

“And at the end of it all, Australia will let him go somewhere he does not know, as he has not been for more than three decades. It is deeply unfair and inhuman. That is not the Australia I grew up in.”

But the decision on Desic’s right to stay in Australia does not lie with NSW – which convicted him of his crime – but with the federal government’s Department of Home Affairs.

Asked about Desic’s situation, the Home Office said it would not comment on individual cases, but said it took “seriously its responsibility to protect Australian society from the risk of harm caused by non-citizens engaging in criminal or other conduct”. behavior. of concern ”.

A spokesman said non-citizens wishing to stay in Australia must meet the requirements for identity, health, character and security.

“Non-Australian nationals who are not in possession of a valid visa will be responsible for detention and removal as soon as possible, pending clarification of any ongoing cases.”

‘Regime with alarming secrecy’

The government’s use of its “character test” to cancel visas has escalated dramatically over the past decade, almost tenfold from 139 in 2012-13 to a peak of 1,278 in 2016-17.

I 2020-21, 946 people had their visas canceled, resulting in their detention or deportation from Australia. Drug crimes were the most common cause of cancellation (126), followed by assault (109). Ten people had their visas revoked because of an “affiliation” with a person or group without being charged or convicted of any crime.

This year, the government has sought to expel a man for being a member of a motorcycle club that was not banned in the state where he lived: he was never charged or indicted for a crime. Another man who was acquitted of a crime also had his visa canceled.

In both cases, the government was overruled by the courts, however a new law that is being considered in the Folketing would allow the government to use secret evidence to deport migrants from Australia or detain stateless people indefinitely, such as Desic.

Legal organizations and rights groups say the law will install a “regime of alarming secrecy”And prevent people from contesting deportation or indefinite detention based on information that may be erroneous, maliciously planted or misinterpreted.

Sangeetha Pillai, a senior research fellow at the University of NSW’s Kaldor Center for International Refugee Law, said Desic’s case presented the government with a choice of what to do. With his permanent residence canceled, Desic will, under the Migration Act, become an “illegal non-citizen” who must be detained or removed from the country.

It may not be for Yugoslavia, but if a state that has emerged in its place – probably Croatia, given its origin – agrees to accept Desic, he could be deported there.

“If there is a place he can be sent to, he will be sent there,” Pillai said.

“But if there is no place that agrees to take him, what he is facing is indefinite detention. [The] Al-Kateb [judgment in the high court concerning a stateless refugee] says ‘if it is forever, then it is forever’. If it never comes out that there is a place that will take you, then you will be in detention. “

Canberra Parliament House
Canberra Parliament House. The decision on Desic’s right to stay in Australia rests with the Federal Government’s Home Affairs Department. Photo: Torsten Blackwood / AFP / Getty Images

Pillai has argued that consistent law changes over two decades have extended the federal government’s powers to exclude people from Australian society, making it easier for non-nationals, including long-term residents, to be deprived of their visas for character or security reasons. , and subsequently detained or removed from Australia.

“After 9/11, Australian law has become more and more exclusive: it’s harder to become a member of Australian society and easier to be excluded from it,” she wrote.

That “the powers of god“Held by immigration and interior ministers – so-called even by former ministers who held them and were uncomfortable with their unrestricted abilities determining a person’s life course – is among the most powerful that any minister in Australia has.

“The rating is very, very broad,” Pillai told the Guardian. “If the Minister believes that a person’s past or present, criminal or general behavior indicates that they are not of a good nature, and the Minister believes that it is in the national interest, they can cancel a visa and the person will be deported.

“Whether it is a good idea is another question. This man, Darko Desic, seems to be loved by his community, his life is here, he is a part of the Australian community.

“What is the real public interest in getting rid of this person, a person who has not done harm in 30 years and who has made a contribution in that time.”

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