Friday, May 13, 2005

Australia to help woman wrongfully deported

Australian officials on Thursday met with a woman deported to Olongapo City in an immigration bungle four years ago, offering to do whatever they could to reunite her with her children.

The Australian Embassy officials promised to give Vivian Alvarez "whatever she wanted" during a visit to the convent hospice in Olongapo, where she has been cared for since 2001, a priest at the convent said.

Australian Consul Frank Evatt extended the apology of Australian Prime Minister John Howard for Alvarez’s deportation.

Alvarez lost her memory in a car accident in Australia in 2001.

Fr. Shay Cullen, who was with Alvarez in the morning, said despite all that she had been through, the wheelchair-bound woman looked happy and was eager to see her two children.

The mother of two, who still felt pain from serious injuries from the accident, also met with her sister, Cecile Solon, at the hospice run by the Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity in Olongapo.

The Australian officials had checked on her condition and "promised to help her in any way they can to return to Australia," Cullen said.

The Australian Embassy in Manila refused to discuss the Alvarez case and directed all inquiries to the foreign affairs department in Canberra.

Cullen said it was still unclear how Alvarez got to the hospice and why she had not contacted family members.

"She told me she did not harbor any bitterness toward the Australian authorities and that they had taken good care of her," he said.

When Alvarez was reunited with her sister the deportee had difficulty recognizing her at first, Cullen said.

"She has pains in her legs which make walking difficult so she is in a wheelchair, suffers from headaches and has difficulty using her hands," he said, adding the Australian government was organizing a medical checkup for her.

Asked what Alvarez did in the hospice for the last four years, Alvarez told Cullen that she "prayed and read to the old folks."

Fr. Mike Duffin, chaplain of the hospice, last week discovered that the woman who had been cared for in the convent was Alvarez after he saw a report on the ABC’s satellite television.

Duffin told ABC that Alvarez had been stuck in the hospice for the dying after being placed there by Australian officials.

"I find that very hard to believe when they [are the] ones who told her before she left Australia that she was coming to Mother Teresa’s," he said.

"I find it very hard [to believe] that the government doesn’t know where they left her. Do they have no records or do people forget things as soon as they do them?" he said.

Duffin said Alvarez shows no sign of a mental illness from which she was suffering when she was deported.

He said she was flown out of Australia after she could not produce a passport following the car accident.

"When they said, ‘We’ll give you someone to look after you,’ well, she thought they were helping her," Duffin said.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said her department’s records show that Alvarez was met in the Philippines by a woman from an overseas women’s welfare association, who could not now be located.

Solon told ABC’s Lateline program she was relieved her sister had been found but remained baffled about how she had been deported in the first place.

The Philippine-born woman—known also by the names Vivian Solon, Vivian Young and Vivian Wilson—was deported in 2001 even though she had two children in Australia and had lived in the country for up to 18 years.

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