Clayton-based Vasilios (Bill) Maikantis, aged 73, migrated to Australia in 1965. He lived, worked and has a family in this country.
No one can claim that he is what we usually call a model citizen. However, his ‘indefinite’ detention by the Ministry of Immigration and the Department of Home Affairs cannot be justified.
For 17 months he has been in limbo after the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) directed the former immigration minister Peter Dutton to grant Mr Maikantis the Bridging E Visa so that he could be released and free to return to his family. From there, the process usually allows for the Minister and the Department to overrule the AAT direction and decide on whether Mr Maikantis should be deported to Greece or accept the ruling and grant him the Bridging Visa.
Migration agent George Vassiliou informed Neos Kosmos that after 30 or more years of practising migration law, he has only witnessed a minister’s overruling AAT directions in cases where there are concerns of national security. Furthermore, in his experience, ministerial decisions do not take more than some months before being handed down.
In this case, Mr Maikantis has been waiting for much longer than reasonably expected.
“This is unprecedented as far as I know,” Mr Vassiliou, his migration agent, said.
“Essentially the minister has been sitting on this case for almost a year-and-a-half while Mr Maikantis’ mental and physical health has been deteriorating. Moreover I have also raised with the Treasurer’s office that the incarceration of Mr Maikantis is costing the taxpayer more than $6,000 per week. This cost is outrageous given the fact that there are alternative and effective forms of supervision of Mr Maikantis while the Minister is determining his next move,” says Mr Vassiliou.
Mr Maikantis’ detention was deemed necessary due to his migration status and the provisions in Section 501 of the Migration Act which states that the minister may cancel a visa or deny to grant one to a person if he reasonably suspects that the person doesn’t pass the character test; and if the person has served more than 12 moths jail term.
Mr Maikantis is not an Australian citizen, despite the fact that he lived in Australia for most of his life; 56 years to be precise. He didn’t get Australian citizenship as, according to his words, “thought it wasn’t necessary” since he lived his whole life in this country.
He doesn’t deny that he has made a lot of mistakes in his lifetime, all of them stemming from his gambling addiction. These mistakes saddled him with a criminal record that is riddled with petty crimes related to illegal gambling activities that took place some decades ago. In more recent years, his gambling addiction sent him to jail for 30 months.
Mr Maikantis was incarcerated in 2015 after he was convicted for cultivating a commercial quantity of cannabis and for drug trafficking. According to court proceedings, Mr Maikantis was paid by a drug syndicate to rent properties in his name which the syndicate then used to cultivate marijuana. The proceeds of his crimes were used to feed his gambling addiction.
In October 2017, he was released from jail and transferred to the Maribyrnong detention centre to be detained further. He was later transferred to the MITA (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation) Broadmeadows detention centre where he is still detained to this day.
These last 19 months while in detention, Mr Maikantis who is a diabetic, had two heart attacks, one stroke and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
It is understood that Minister David Coleman can take his time in deciding on Mr Maikantis’ case, ignoring the detrimental consequences his detention has had on his physical and mental health and the impact of that on his family.
“I take 30 pills a day. Sometimes I do not want to take them. It is better for me to die than keep on living in here,” Mr Maikantis said.
“My wife is very sick. For my 97-year-old mother, every day I spend in detention is another stab wound in her heart.”
Mr Vassiliou has already requested alternative forms of detention with Mr Maikantis’ MITA case officer, however there has been no progress on this matter as yet.
“As I understand, according to the last communication with his MITA case officer, the representation made by him for alternative forms of detention is still before the minister,” Mr Vassiliou added.
When Neos Kosmos contacted Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs David Coleman’s office to ask how long it would take for the case to be determined and to find out why alternative forms of detention have not been considered given the mental and physical health of Mr Maikantis, we were referred to the Department of Home Affairs.
The Department of Home Affairs responded as follows: “The Department does not comment on individual cases. It is committed to protecting the Australian community from the risk of harm posed by non-citizens who engage in criminal conduct or behaviour of concern. There are strong provisions in the Migration Act 1958 (the Act) that allow the Department to refuse or cancel a visa, where a person is found not to be of good character” the statement said repeating in other words Section 501.
It goes on to mention the legal right of those whose visas are cancelled or denied appeal, and it states that the minister only intervenes in a relatively small number of cases which present unique and exceptional circumstances.
“I made a lot of mistakes in my life. I did the wrong thing. I served my time. I only ask for a decision. I beg them to make it soon. I can’t live like this anymore,” Mr Maikantis said, hoping that his words will not fall on deaf ears for much longer.