French diplomats are demanding to know why it took Australian immigration officials five months to tell them that a 74-year-old French national was being held in an immigration detention center.
The illegal immigrant died of a brain hemorrhage 10 days after French officials were told he was in the Sydney detention center.
French diplomat Olivier Bove yesterday said consular officials were questioning Australia's immigration department over its decision to hold Marc Thao -- a former shopkeeper who was born in Laos -- for five months before notifying the embassy.
Last month, the embassy received a notice from the immigration department that one of its citizens was to be deported but no name was provided, Bove said.
Another week passed before French officials received a phone call from an Australian doctor treating Thao, who had been admitted to hospital in a critical condition.
Thao died on Aug. 29 from a cerebral hemorrhage.
In a newspaper report yesterday, French officials expressed outrage over immigration practices in Australia.
"Frankly, we are appalled at the way our citizen was treated," a spokesman for the embassy told the Australian newspaper. The paper did not identify the spokesman.
Australian Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone yesterday said that Thao had told officials he did not want the French government to be notified about his detention.
"In this case, in a record of interview, the gentleman was asked whether the embassy should be notified and specifically instructed that they should not be," Vanstone said. "That is the right of the person that is being detained to do so."
Immigration officials opted to notify the embassy once Thao was admitted to hospital, Vanstone said.
Thao left New Caledonia in 1999 to live with his stepdaughter in Sydney. After his three-month tourist visa expired, Thao continued to live in Australia as an illegal immigrant.
His status went undetected until March this year, when police were called to his home to resolve a domestic dispute.
Thao's stepson told police about the man's illegal status, and he was taken to Sydney's detention center in the suburb of Villawood.
French officials said they are awaiting a response from the Australian immigration department before deciding whether any further action will be taken.