Australian refugee contractor accused of breaching its duty of care

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Friday, December 30, 2005

The Australian Centre for Languages, a company which has a multi-million dollar contract with the Australian government to provide refugee services, has been accused of breaching its duty of care following the death of a chronically ill child and allegations of failing to provide three women in their care with food.

Richard Niyonsaba

A two-and-a-half year old child, Richard Niyonsaba, died less than 24 hours after arriving in Australia.

In November, Richard and his family came to Australia after spending time in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Richard suffered from chronic sickle-cell anaemia.

The boy's father, Protais Ntiranyi had been in the country just 18 hours when he woke, at 4am on November 5 to find his son convulsing. Mr Ntiranyi who was alone with his family in a Fairfield flat was frightened and confused as he did not know what to do to help his son.

The family's case worker, from a company called the Australian Centre for Languages (ACL), had earlier shown them a telephone in the flat and allegedly told them to dial 000 in case of emergency. Mr Ntiranyi had never used a telephone and could not speak English.

Mr Ntiranyi, roamed the neighbourhood screaming for help in his native language. The only attention Mr Ntiranyi got was that of a Sudanese refugee, who couldn't understand what he was saying but knew he was clearly distressed and in need of help. By the time he brought the neighbour to his flat his son had died.

Denial of food

Two sisters and another woman from Africa, considered refugees have made claims that they were not provided with food by ACL.

Princess and Yeah Yeah Gbdeah arrived in Sydney on November 4, 2005 and were relocated to Newcastle. The sisters allege that when they arrived in Newcastle, a case worker from ACL presented them with a 12-month lease to sign. They claim that when they refused to sign the lease as they were afraid and unfamiliar with the area that the case worker told them they would not be given any food vouchers.

A third woman, Caroline Nykango, was with the sisters and signed the lease. She was given a $50 food voucher, but did not know how to use it as she had never used a supermarket.

According to the women the only food in the house was an apple, a packet of rice and some oil. The women went without food for 5 days before walking out and meeting a man on the street who took them to a church for assistance.

Princess said "There was no food to eat, she didn't show us how to use the stove, we were sick, we were afraid". "We were told a case worker would come to see us but no case worker came. We told her we didn't want that home, we don't want to sign and she said, 'We will not give you the vouchers unless you sign, we will not give you the food'".

Jenny Witmarsh from ACL said the circumstances described by the women "are not the facts as I understand them".

The two sisters are now living in a house in Hamilton, organised with the help of local citizens.

The matter had been referred to an independent inquiry, which should be completed in early February.

Background and Criticisms

In October the federal government awarded a multi-million dollar contract to ACL for the care and resettlement of refugees - work that was previously carried out by non-profit and volunteer organisations.

It is believed that only days before Richard's death doctors at the Newcastle Refugee Health Clinic had written to the Immigration Department warning the government that problems relating to the health of new arrivals in Australia had emerged in the Hunter Valley. ACL also had the contract for the care of refugees in the Hunter Valley.

Organisations which formerly provided care to refugees have strongly criticised ACL saying that they can not provide the level of care that these people require.

The family of Richard Niyonsaba have called on the federal government to review its policy of outsourcing refugee services. The federal government is unlikely to hold an inquiry with the Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, John Cobb disagreeing with the family's version of events.

Greg Barnes from Rights Australia is calling for a review saying "We have a child who comes in to Australia who's obviously extremely ill and his parents are really, on the face of it, given very little or no support at all".