Canberra has offered a long-term Australian resident it deported to Serbia temporary housing and medical checks in Belgrade, but is standing by its decision not to allow him back into the country, an official said today.
Robert Jovicic, 38, has told reporters he was deported to Serbia, a country he had never set foot in, in June 2004 despite having lived in Australia for 36 years.
He arrived as a two-year-old in Australia in 1968 from France, where he was born, along with his Serbian-born parents, brother and sister.
But last year, the government deported him after he had been imprisoned for committing a string of burglaries to buy heroin.
For two cold nights this week, Jovicic had camped outside the Australian embassy in Belgrade to publicise his bid to be returned to the Australia, ABC television reported yesterday.
“I’ve explained to the embassy if I’m considered Australian trash that I will rot on Australian soil,” Jovicic told the ABC, indicating he was prepared to die on the embassy steps.
“I cannot survive here,” he added.
Jovicic’s case comes amid criticism of Australian immigration authorities for wrongfully deporting one of its own citizens to the Philippines and locking up a German-born Australian national in an Outback detention centre for months because officials thought both women were illegal immigrants.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said today Jovicic had been given three nights’ accommodation and the embassy had arranged for a medical examination and medicine.
“The embassy has assisted him as a compassionate gesture while it seeks support for him from local welfare organisations,” the spokeswoman said.
“But he has no entitlement to consular assistance from the Australian government because he is not an Australian citizen or permanent resident,” she added.
“In the interests of his own welfare, he needs to resolve his own citizenship status in Serbia and Montenegro so he can obtain medical and other assistance from Serbian authorities,” she said.
His sister, Susanna Jovicic, an Australian citizen, wants the government to allow her brother to return to Melbourne in southern Australia.
“You can’t just throw someone who’s been here all their lives and calls this place his home, and just dump them somewhere else,” she told ABC radio.
The Immigration Department released a statement last night saying Jovicic had a substantial criminal record and the then Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock had used his discretion to cancel Jovicic’s visa.
Jovicic was not considered a stateless person when he was deported because the department expected he would have the right to stay in Serbia, the statement said.