A Philippine-born Australian woman who was wrongly deported to Manila after being mistaken for an illegal immigrant said yesterday that the prime minister's apology was "nice," but his offer of a six-month compensation package was still not enough.
Vivian Alvarez, who has held dual citizenship since 1986, was deported in July 2001 after she was mistakenly identified as an illegal immigrant, possibly a sex slave, following a serious car crash in which she was left with severe injuries and memory loss.
Alvarez, 42, was hospitalized for almost three months following the car accident. She was then held for a week in immigration detention before being deported.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister John Howard issued public apologies to Alvarez and German-born Australian resident Cornelia Rau, who was held for 10 months in a high-security detention center on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant.
Australia has offered Alvarez a lump-sum resettlement payment, plus six months each of free medical and health care, free accommodation and financial support for a family member in Australia.
But in a statement released yesterday by her lawyer, George Newhouse, Alvarez said the apology "sounds nice" but added she was concerned about what would happen after the compensation package ran out.
In the statement she said she feared she could be dead within six months and the government would not support her family in Australia beyond that time.
"I don't know that I will still be around in six months. I could be dead in six months. If I die in the Philippines, my children will never be able to afford to visit my grave," she said.
Howard's apology followed the release of a damning official report on Thursday calling for an overhaul of the nation's immigration department in the wake of the Alvarez and Rau incidents. The report said immigration officials were poorly trained and had little understanding of the laws they implemented.
The report found that Alvarez was a "partial quadriplegic" at the time she was deported. Her lawyers have said she was so incapacitated she could not sign her name and had to use a thumb print as a signature.
"Who is going to help hang out the wash?" she said yesterday. "Will the prime minister help me to hang out the laundry?
Alvarez was tracked down by reporters to a hospice outside Manila in May after news of her illegal deportation became public.
Her children, aged 17 and nine, are in Australia but she remains in Manila while her lawyers negotiate terms of compensation.
Earlier this week, Newhouse said immigration officials knew that Alvarez had been wrongly deported three days after she was sent back to Manila, but chose to cover it up. Howard vehemently denied the cover-up claims.
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