A Brisbane grandmother who has lived in Australia for 50 years is set to be deported after Assistant Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke denied her permission to stay in the country.
Maryanne Caric has not left Australia since she arrived with her parents as a two-year-old from the then Republic of Yugoslavia, and does not speak Croatian.
On March 1, Ms Caric, a convicted drug offender detained in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre, was handed deportation papers. She has no connections in Croatia, and as far as she knows, will receive no financial or health support.
It’s a case that raises questions about where Australia’s obligations lie, and what responsibility we have for our citizens and non-citizens.
Ms Caric has been caught up in legislative changes introduced in 2014 which, among other provisions, made it mandatory that any non-citizen who was sentenced to imprisonment of 12 months or more, would have their visas cancelled.
A statement to The Law Report from the Department of Immigration said: “The vast majority of this group has committed serious or violent crimes.”
When a migrant is deemed to have failed the character test under Section 501 of the Migration Act, their visa is cancelled. Many of these so-called “501s” have been New Zealanders.
Visa cancellations can be revoked by ministerial intervention, but in most cases that doesn’t happen. In Ms Caric’s case, Mr Hawke has acknowledged her likely fate in Croatia.
In his decision, obtained by The Law Report, he said: “I accept that having been away from her country of origin for close to 50 years and having no personal support network there, together with her health and substance abuse issues, that it would be extremely difficult for her to make the necessary adjustments to life there.”
Ms Caric, who is also known by her birth name, Mirjana, is a lifelong drug user and offender. She is not sure how many years she has spent in jail. “In the double figures,” she said in an interview from Villawood detention centre.
Many of her convictions were for possession, but she has also been convicted of supply, and of trafficking — a definition which can apply to supplying more than three people.
None of the offences were violent. “I’ve never broken in to people’s houses or anything like that,” she said.
Ms Caric left home in Brisbane at 14, fleeing a violent alcoholic father. Her older sister Katrina had already left, after marrying at 16. Katrina would continue to look out for Maryanne over the tumultuous years that followed.
At some point Maryanne, who has a broad Australian accent, slipped through the citizenship net. Katrina became a citizen when she married, and she later organised her parents’ citizenship papers.
But Maryanne wasn’t around at the time. She told The Law Report she never thought about visas or citizenship.
“I thought I was living as an Australian,” she said.
“I class myself as an Australian. I have never been anywhere else. I’ve never left the country. I’ve never wanted to.”
In Mr Hawke’s decision, he said: “I find that the Australian community would expect non-citizens to obey Australian laws while in Australia.”
Ms Caric’s lawyer, Jason Donnelly, who wrote her submission to revoke the visa cancellation, said the decision not to revoke is “unreasonable in the moral sense”.
“I think if you are a non-citizen who has only lived here for a small portion of your life, then I would probably say there is very good reason for Australia exercising its sovereignty to deport that person to their country of national origin,” he said.
“However, for all intents and purposes Maryanne, coming here as a two-year-old, is Australian. And I think Australia does need to exercise a fundamental sense of compassion.”
Photo: Maryanne Caric in 2011, after taking part in a Reality TV series called ‘Conviction Kitchen’