Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Archival Rescue 36 ~ Aus Detention

Cornelia Rau speaks to the media;
Rau seeks compensation, but detention still a mystery
By Penelope Debelle May 24, 2005 Sydney Morning Herald

Speaking with a slight German accent Cornelia Rau, discharged yesterday from a South Australian psychiatric hospital into supported accommodation in Adelaide, declared herself a German woman wrongly detained by immigration authorities after she lost her passport and had her money stolen.

"I am from Hamburg, Germany, and I have never been treated so unfairly all my life," said Ms Rau, who spoke briefly in German at a press conference organised by her lawyer, refugee advocate Claire O'Connor. "I am a German citizen and a permanent Australian resident."

Looking healthy and suntanned, Ms Rau, 39, who came to Australia from Hamburg as an 18-month-old baby and lived in Sydney before she was wrongly detained, said she would seek compensation from the Federal Government for the gruelling 11 months during which she had feared for her life.

During a 25-minute press conference, Ms Rau spoke at length on subjects of interest to her, but she filled in only some of the gaps in the story of how an Australian woman, a former Qantas flight attendant with family in Sydney, was locked up by police in North Queensland in March 2004, after discharging herself from Manly Hospital in Sydney.

She said she was picked up in Queensland after her diary, money and passport were stolen - and had been treated badly.

"I was kept in a small cell," she said. "It was a very tormenting experience."

Dressed in dark clothes and sneakers with her hair in small plaits, Ms Rau said she feared for her life in Queensland when guards gave her an injection. She had been unable to contact a lawyer or human rights groups and could not access a phone, she said.

"I don't think [Immigration Minister] Amanda Vanstone would have liked to be in my situation," she said.

She said she had told guards in Queensland she was Cornelia Rau and yesterday declined to answer why she used other names while detained, including Anna Schmidt and Anna Brotmeyer.

"I have my reasons," she said.

After moving in October last year from immigration detention in the Queensland prison system to the Baxter detention centre at Port Augusta she was put behind barbed wire, she said.

"I was locked up like a caged animal," she said, calling for the centres to be closed down. "That's what happens to some immigrants from countries like Iran, Iraq and Asia, not to Caucasians."

She complained of rough behaviour in the high-security Red One compound at Baxter where Ms Rau said a guard cornered her and threw her onto the grass.

"I had to put my hand behind my back, then another four guards came running up as well, it was quite foul," she said.

Ms Rau, whose behaviour at Baxter provoked concern from other detainees, spoke with equal outrage over her detention in the Glenside mental health unit at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

"I've been held there and not had freedom to move around and experience life," she said of the past four months after her family identified her in detention. "I don't have any illness. I am very healthy and value every day."

Describing herself as down to earth and straightforward, she said she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but denied suffering from it or any other mental illness.

"I don't hear voices or have any symptoms of illness," she said. "I am just an outspoken German person who has done nothing wrong. I am in this predicament and it is not fair for me."

Ms Rau said the media had wrongly reported her situation but the confusion would clear up now she was speaking out.

During the press conference, called to update the media on her release then ask for privacy, Ms Rau spoke of her support for the Greens and Bob Brown, her outrage at Macquarie Bank executives receiving millions a year while villagers in Africa needed anti-AIDS medication, a greater domestic role for the Australian army and conversations in Qantas first-class with a fellow German, formula one racing car driver Michael Schumacher.


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