3 Dec 2015

Detainee struggled to see dying wife

9:26 am on 3 December 2015

A New Zealander being held in an Australian detention centre says the authorities made it difficult for him to see his terminally ill wife before she died this week.



Ra Fowell, who is originally from Rotorua, is at Sydney's Villawood detention centre awaiting deportation, after serving a jail sentence for multiple driving offences and possession of cannabis.

Despite pleas to go home and look after his wife, Carmel Stanwell, who was dying of lung cancer, he was only able to visit her a few times before she died in his arms on Tuesday.

Mr Fowell said authorities showed little compassion for his wife's deteriorating health.

"They don't care. It was a struggle for her to come and see me while she was going through the treatment, but she showed up like a soldier."

He said he wanted the authorities to "do the right thing".

"Not everyone's a rapist or a murderer or a paedophile here, as John Key has been saying. We do have families that are hurting too. They need to show more compassion on an individual basis, instead of judging us all under one umbrella."

While Mr Fowell did spend a year in jail, it was not for serious or violent crimes - he had driven while disqualified and been caught in possession of cannabis. That was enough to be imprisoned and under Australia's tough new regime he is now being held in detention before being deported.

Greens call for human rights inquiry

Mr Fowell is one of about 200 New Zealanders represented in a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The submission by the Australian and New Zealand Green parties calls for an inquiry into the treatment of people in detention centres.

Green MP Marama Davidson told Morning Report she hoped the commission would be able to get to the bottom of what had been going on.

She said as recently as last night she was receiving reports from families of detainees who are very concerned for their loved ones, some of whom are mentally unwell, and self-harming.

She said many New Zealanders had been arbitrarily detained for random reasons. Some, like Mr Fowell, had limited access to their families.

Ms Davidson said there was an urgent need for immediate action as families are desperate to find out what is happening.

"This is an international kaupapa for Greens around the world, but for me, I've come from 10 years at the Human Rights Commission - I'm really concerned about the slippery slope of starting to deny people their human rights in detention."

If the Australian commission takes the case on, Ms Davidson said, it would release a report with recommendations to the Minister.

"We need everything we can to apply pressure on to the Australian government.

"It's rather unfortunate that the Prime Minister [John Key] had an opportunity, speaking directly with [Australian Prime Minister] Mr [Malcolm] Turnbull, and could have asked very basic questions: 'how long are they going to be there, can we review each case...?'"

Ms Davidson said it was because those questions had not been asked that the Greens were putting pressure on Canberra.