The recent High Court decision in Shaw v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (9 December 2003) has serious implications for those shipped to Australia as children under the child migration schemes that operated up until the late 1960s.
As minors mostly in British institutions, those young children had no choice when they were deported to Australia.
It is now the case that a person born outside Australia to non-Australian parents, who came here after 1949 and who has not been naturalised, is an "alien" for immigration purposes.
The Shaw case overrules Re Patterson: Ex parte Taylor (2001) where a High Court majority held that there was a middle-category termed "non-citizens non-aliens", consisting of British subjects who arrived in Australia before 1973 or 1987 and who could not be removed under migration law.
By abandoning this category, the ageing cohort of former child migrants again face problems with their Australian residency status.
Shamefully, although living in Australia for decades, they face the absurdity of being legally classified "aliens".
Although Patterson offered temporary - albeit short - respite from this unfair situation, the decision in Shaw means yet again that those former child migrants who have never received Australian citizenship are "aliens" in the country they identify with most.
Australian citizenship emerged as a controversial issue during the 2001 Senate Community Affairs References Inquiry into Child Migration. Many witnesses told of humiliating and stressful experiences when attempting to undertake overseas travel or applying for social security.
Imagine being deported to Australia as a child, being raised (often cruelly) in orphanages, then paying your taxes and dues as an Australian, and even fighting for your country - only to discover you are classed as a "non-citizen", an "alien" and could face deportation again.
The International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families stated in their submission to the Senate Inquiry that many of its members:
>…served in the Australian military and fought for Australia in Korea or Vietnam, or both, but when we wanted to claim social security benefits, we were told we were aliens, and if we couldn’t prove how we arrived in Australia we would be deported.
Shock and humiliation were the feelings described by many witnesses when told by the authorities they were "non-citizens". One stated that it took six months for him to be "cleared". "I was accused of being a criminal and I got no apology whatsoever …".
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