Monday, June 06, 2005

Archival Rescue 56 ~ Chen defection

Small minded bureaucracy in Australia, as appalling as anywhere else in the world. A defector risks his life and uses his wits to survive the Immigration Department and DFAT;

Defector shunted from pillar to post
By Tom Allard June 6, 2005 Sydney Morning Herald

When Chen Yonglin left the Chinese diplomatic mission in Camperdown on the morning of May 26 with his wife and six-year-old child, he knew he was taking a huge risk.

He also knew that if he was posted back to Beijing the following month, as planned, his activities would be uncovered by his successor.

He expected difficulties and stress. What he didn't expect was that one of the world's democratic models would treat his application for asylum in its borders - and the prospect of a treasure trove of priceless intelligence - with disdain.

His extraordinary account of his treatment (to which the Government would not respond last night) begins the day he defected, when the state director of the Department of Immigration refused to see him.

He presented his diplomatic identification to the departmental staff at the counter and begged them not to call the Chinese consulate.

They did, however, and Mr Chen fled the office with his wife when he was called by his boss from the consulate soon after.

"We went to the train station and caught the train to Gosford. There are not many Chinese there … so not much chance of informers on me," he said.

He left behind his explosive letter applying for political asylum and details of his access to top secret Chinese documents. He also left a contact number.

That night, he was called by an Immigration Department officer he names as Louise Lindsay. She asked for a meeting the next day but ignored his pleas for a safe haven and said there was no alternative but to meet at the department's Parramatta offices.

"I was really upset," he said. "I didn't want to go there but I had no choice, it seemed."

Mr Chen said he called Ms Lindsay back: "I asked if we could meet somewhere safe … a police station."

That idea was rejected, as was another option, secure transport to the department's office at Parramatta.

Knowing that the Chinese consulate had been warned of his asylum bid, Mr Chen decided that the risk too high and called off the meeting.

Ms Lindsay called him that afternoon, he said, and told him his bid for political asylum had been rejected.

"She also said it was extremely difficult to get other protection visa. She talked about business visa. I was very upset and ignorant about these visa categories."

Over the weekend, Mr Chen called Ms Lindsay, again asking for a meeting. According to Mr Chen, she said he should come to department's main office in Sydney on Monday.

After a marathon taxi ride to Sydney, "I was in the car park around the back of the building, and then I called her," Mr Chen said.

"She says she is not ready and needed to talk to her superiors in Canberra." Come back the next day, she advised.

By this time Mr Chen was highly agitated, but when he came back the next day he got his meeting with Ms Lindsay and two other women, who said they were a Foreign Affairs protocol officer and a senior Immigration official.

Again, he was told his bid for political asylum had been rejected. He said he was also told by the officer from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that he should return to the Chinese consulate.

He said the immigration official discouraged him from taking out an ordinary protection visa and suggested a tourist visa.

"My feeling was that they were playing with me under pressure of the embassy and the Chinese government," he said. "They discourage me with political asylum but encourage me to return to the Chinese consulate."

In the end, he put in in his temporary protection visa form despite being told it would be "extremely impossible".

Refugee lawyers say he may have saved himself by doing so.

He went public that same day, realising it might be the only way his bid for asylum would be treated seriously.


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