‘No wife-No entry,’ Indian tourists detained by Australian Border Force

Later officials conceded in the court that the decision to cancel the Indian tourists' visas was affected by a “jurisdictional error.

Three Indian nationals from Kerala were taken into custody by the Australian Border Force (ABF) officials when they landed at Perth Airport on 1 September 2022.

Polachan Vareed, Shibu Lonakunji and Shaju Kunjuvareed who are members of the same family were questioned for 12 hours and then detained for 110 hours in an immigration detention facility in Perth.

The three men and their spouses were granted three-year-long tourist visas by the Department of Home Affairs in May and June. They travelled to Perth, Western Australia for a holy communion celebration for their brother-in-law Biju Pallan’s daughter.
With Mr Pallan, trio also planned to take a tour around the state and to South Australia for a holiday.

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Polachan Vareed, Shibu Lonakunji and Shaju Kunjuvareed (Image source: Biju Pallan)

It is being reported that the ABF cancelled their tourist visas and decided to deport them believing that the three men while in Australia intended to work for their brother-in-law Biju Pallan.

ABF also observed that the three men did not arrive with their wives, “stated travel companions,” as originally listed on their visa applications.

ABF’s notice of intention to cancel the visa reads:

“Departmental systems confirm that the person you claimed as your spouse in your visa application is currently not in Australia. The above information confirms you have provided an incorrect answer on your current Subclass 600 (Visitor) visa application.”

The men told ABF that their wives made a last-minute decision to remain in India. Polachan Vareed, told SBS Malayalam, that he was “questioned like a criminal.”

He added:

“I was kept in detention for five days, just because I didn’t bring my wife with me. Is this how tourists are treated here?”

Immigration officials’ decision was later overturned by a Melbourne bench of the Federal Circuit Court where officials conceded that the decision to cancel the Indian tourists’ visas was affected by a “jurisdictional error.”

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Polachan Vareed, Shibu Lonakunji and Shaju Kunjuvareed (Image source: Biju Pallan)

The three Indian tourists were released from detention following a court order quashing the government decision.

The court order said in its ruling:

“The [minister’s] delegate misconstrued section 101(b) of the Migration Act 1958 in finding that the applicant had provided incorrect answers.”

The September 6 court order further read:

“The respondent concedes there was no evidence before the delegate that the information provided by the applicant, being who he intended to travel to Australia with, was incorrect at the time the application was lodged.”

Ethnic Communities Council of Western Australia president Suresh Rajan told SMH that the whole saga “smacked of stereotyping”:

“I question whether it is stereotyping based on the colour of their skin because I don’t think that they would have applied this type of analysis to someone coming in from the UK or from Europe, who happens to be white-skinned.”

Shibu Lonakunji, one of the tourists, said he never imagined would happen in Australia:

“We never expected this kind of treatment, we were treated as people who had broken the law and that is wrong. It will take us some time to get over those feelings of hurt.”

ABF spokesman said it did not comment on individual cases due to privacy reasons and also rejected suggestions that racism played any role in the decision to detain Indian tourists.

The court has asked the Ministry of Immigration to pay the legal costs of the visitors.