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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Howard apologises for detentions
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, 13 July
Mr Howard has been under fire before for his immigration policies
Australian PM John Howard has apologised to two women wrongfully detained as illegal immigrants, after the publication of a scathing report.

Mr Howard apologised to both Cornelia Rau, who spent 10 months in a detention centre, and Vivian Alvarez, who was mistakenly deported to the Philippines.

In light of the report, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone admitted that changes needed to be made.

The department's head, Bill Farmer, resigned earlier this week.

The 195-page report, by former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer, found a series of problems in the handling of the cases of both Ms Rau and Ms Alvarez.

The 10-month detention last year of German-born Cornelia Rau sparked the inquiry.

Philippine-born Vivian Alvarez was also mistakenly identified as an illegal immigrant and deported in 2001.

The Palmer report found that Ms Alvarez was a "partial quadriplegic" at the time she was sent back to Manila. Her lawyers claim she was so incapacitated she could not sign her name and had to use a thumb print as a signature.

A nun wheels Australian-Filipina Vivian Alvarez from a convent hospice in the northern Philippine city of Olongapo, 13 May 2005.
Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez was mistakenly deported
She currently remains in the Philippines while her lawyers negotiate a compensation package.

The government has referred another 200 cases of possible wrongful detention to a wider inquiry.

"On behalf of the government, I give those apologies to both of those women who were the victims of mistakes by the department," Mr Howard told reporters on Thursday.

But Ms Alvarez's lawyer George Newhouse rejected his apology.

"If they were serious about an apology, they would commit to an appropriate care package for Vivian so she can return to the country - otherwise it's just crocodile tears," he told the Associated Press.

The opposition Labor Party called for Mr Howard to fire Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone as a result of the mistakes, but the prime minister stood by her, saying that overseeing Australia's immigration system was a difficult task.

Australia's tough immigration policies have long been criticised by human rights groups.

In the face of widespread pressure, the government recently ended its policy of detaining children, along with their families, on suspicion of being illegal immigrants.

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