GOLRIZ GHAHRAMAN, GREEN PARTY NEW ZEALAND MP
13 August 2018
The Green Party MP, Golriz Ghahraman, came to my attention on 3 August 2018 after she posted a video on Twitter saying, “No human right is absolute. They are all subject to lawful limits.” I responded that in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are many human rights which are absolute, such as the right not to be tortured or suffer cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. She blocked me on Twitter.
Ms Ghahraman’s Green Party profile states, “Golriz is an Iranian-Kiwi refugee, lucky to escape war and persecution as a child” and “Golriz made history as the first ever refugee to be sworn in as an MP”.
In a NZ Herald article, Meet Golriz Ghahraman, the Green Party's newest Member of Parliament, 7 October 2017, Kirsty Johnston writes, “Most of Golriz Ghahraman's childhood memories are of war. She remembers howling sirens, sending families scurrying into basements. She remembers people being trapped.” In her Maiden Speech to Parliament, Ms Ghahraman said, “I remember the bombs and the sirens, running to a basement and just waiting. But mostly I remember kids my age who stopped talking from the shell shock, and I still don't know what happened to them.”
Ms Ghahraman stated in June 2017, Barrister and Green Party candidate Golriz Ghahraman that “I’m from Mashhad in the north of Iran”. She is also reported to have claimed that when departing Iran, they left from Mashhad. She was proud of her city and claimed that since Mosul in northern Iraq had been destroyed, it was the most important “holy city” for the Shi’a. This claim is incorrect because the most important Shi’a cities have always been Najaf with the shrine of Imam Ali, and Karbala with the shrine of Imam Hussein. In the order of revered Shi’a holy men, Ali is the first Imam, Hussein is the third and Mashhad has the shrine for Imam Reza, lower down the list as the fifth Imam of the 12 Imams.
The significance of Ms Ghahraman’s statement is that she has an affinity with Mashhad, which indicates she was living there and not in Tehran.
Mashhad is the largest city in eastern Iran, near the border with Afghanistan. It was unaffected by the war, except as a safe haven for many people displaced by the Iran-Iraq war in the west and south. There were no missiles attacks. It is 900 km east of Tehran and 1500km from Iraq, well out of Iraqi rocket range. If she was always living in Mashhad until 1990, the claim of war memories is fictional.
In answer to the concerns raised about her living in Mashhad, Ms Ghahraman is reported to have claimed that she went to Tehran in the school holidays, so in 1987 or 1988, but does not give specific dates. Between June and September 1988, there had been missile attacks on Tehran between March to May 1988 and it is implaisible that she would have gone there for the school holidays. That only leaves 1987 when aged 6 years. This also lacks the ring of truth because it does not explain why she would be taken to Tehran, within possible range of bombing/missile attacks, instead of remaining in the safety of Mashhad.
There is no record in published information I have seen that Ms Ghahraman and her family moved from Mashhad to Tehran. There are reports of some bombing raids on Tehran by Iraq's depleted airforce after 1984 but nothing of the damage done to other cities closer to the border. Iran's airforce was one of the most modern in the Middle East, with the Shah having squandered the nation's oil wealth on building up the armed forces, having been allowed to purchase modern US fighters. However, if the claim about her memory of missile attacks is true, her family would have had to have moved to Tehran by the first attack in mid-March 1988. In a 52 day period during March to May 1988, Tehran was attacked by Iraqi missiles and 86 landed in populated areas. Some 422 civilians died and 1579 were injured. As noted earlier, it appears on the evidence of Ms Ghahraman that she never lived in Tehran.
In an online article, A day in the life of Green Party candidate Golriz Ghahraman, 5 August 2017, she says, “I had this lovely, happy childhood in the middle of what was a really insecure political time in Iran's history.” There is no reference to missiles, sirens, or trapped people. This inconsistent statement casts further doubt on whether she was ever affected by the war between Iran and Iraq from 1980 to 1988.
The claim that Ms Ghahraman was so traumatised by events over 52 days in an 8-year war when she was 6 or 7 years old, giving the impression to Kirsty Johnston of the NZ Herald that “most” of her “childhood memories are of war” is not consistent with the facts.
There is no recorded evidence I have seen that Ms Ghahraman has given the name of the suburb where she lived in Tehran, if she indeed ever lived there, which could confirm whether she was anywhere near one of the 86 missiles that landed in Tehran. Ms Ghahraman has given vague information about this claim, while at the same time indicating a strong connection with Mashhad, which further casts doubt on whether her family moved from Mashhad to Tehran and was she was exposed to any rocket attack.
All of this also casts doubt on Ms Ghahraman's claims about bombs, sirens and children her age who stopped talking from shell shock and her related claims.
In the NZ Herald, Ms Ghahraman is reported as talking about a friend’s cousin who wrote graffiti on a wall and “then he was gone”. She links this to people being disappeared by the regime and ending up in unmarked graves.
Again, the information about this claim is vague. She does not name this person, when this occurred, what was the graffiti, whether she actually saw this person writing graffiti or another source of information, why she thinks he “disappeared”, and whether he was caught writing graffiti or this claimed disappearance occurred at a later date. As this occurred sometime between 1981 and 1990, at most when she was 9 years old, there is no evidence as to why she remembers this and makes the connection to politics and the regime. This claim does not stand up to scrutiny.
In the NZ Herald article, it states that “The fighting stopped when she was eight”. As the war finished in August 1988, and she was born in 1981, Ms Ghahraman would have been 6 or 7 years old. It is an obvious error and one she could have asked the journalist to correct. If she was only 6 years old in August 1988, this would cast doubt on her ability to remember in such detail all the claimed events of war and persecution. The claim that she was 8 years old at the end of the war and failure to correct the record, casts doubt on her credibility.
Ms Ghahraman makes much of the claim that she is a refugee. In her Maiden Speech to the Parliament she said:
"I never intended to run as the first ever refugee MP but I quickly realised that my face and my story mean so much to so many, so my fear of tokenism dissipated."
"When that repression got too scary, my family and I fled."
The claim that she is a “refugee” does not stand up to scrutiny, based on media reports and human rights and other reports on Iran. Her vague claims about the repression of the regime are not consistent with human rights reports on Iran because the regime was repressive from the beginning in 1979, not just in 1990. After the Islamic Revolution, thousands were imprisoned and executed because of their association with the Shah or his government. Entrants to university were carefully scrutinised to ensure no student or their family harboured opposition to the regime: see US States Department Report on Human Rights in Iran, 1993.
The claim of Ms Ghahraman is all the more shocking because hundreds of thousands have been killed, imprisoned and tortured since the Islamic Revolution in January 1979. About 3 million fled the regime and mostly went to Europe, USA, Canada and Australia. Opponents of the regime do not dare return to Iran, even for a visit. The regime had death squads operating in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s and there is evidence they have restarted. This is a regime which hunts down and kills and maims opponents, even after they have fled the country.
The claim to be a refugee from Iran is a significant claim, historically and morally. Too many people have been tortured, executed or forced to flee for their lives for anyone to claim this status without justification. Unlike her and her parents who left by plane, many escaped in dangerous journeys over the mountains to Turkey or across the border into Iraq. Many died or were killed in the attempt.
I first represented Iranian refugees in 1994 in their application for refugee status in Australia, and have being doing so up until the present. I have listened to many stories of torture, persecution and escape. I have read the human rights reports and gone through pages and pages of reports with the photos of those executed. Between July 2010 and June 2015, as a Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal, I conducted hearings with Iranians who had applied for a protection visa and been refused by the Department of Immigration, and made decisions giving detailed reasons.
Ms Ghahraman has described in the NZ Herald and Stuff online how her parents supported the Islamic Revolution, like many people at that time from all sides of politics who came together to oppose the Shah. She says that father was an agricultural engineer, working for the Ministry of Agriculture. She says he was undertaking research in developing alternative fuel sources. She says her mother was admitted to university after the Islamic Revolution and graduated. She described how she left Iran, with an orderly departure at an airport. The family was issued with passports, given permission to leave the country and allowed to take a holiday in Malaysia. The regime had a watch list to stop opponents obtaining passports and departing from an airport.
This indicates that Ms Ghahraman’s family were viewed by the regime as their supporters. Her father was undertaking strategic research. That he was allowed to travel outside Iran with his family, indicates he was trusted to return. He would only have been given these benefits if he was either a supporter of the regime or harboured no indications of opposition to them. All government workplaces had monitoring units to ensure adherence to the principles of the Islamic Revolution. The issuing of passports, permission to leave for a holiday and an orderly departure, is not consistent with people who were persecuted by the regime.
Ms Ghahraman claimed that they had to leave their house but not that it was confiscated. The regime has made billions of dollars in confiscating the property of those who fled by falsely registering title deeds transferring the property to themselves: Khamenei controls massive financial empire built on property seizuresm, Reuters, 11 November 2013. This indicates they were not viewed as opponents of the regime, otherwise the house would have been stolen by the regime.
Ms Ghahraman is not a refugee or a “child asylum seeker”: Green lawyer hopes to be first refugee to win a seat in Parliament. Her claims of war and persecution do not stand up to scrutiny. Her claim to be a “refugee” is disrespectful to the victims of the regime and the millions of Iranians forced to leave the country under threat of torture and death. She is the child of parents who, like all migrants, wanted a better future for their children, especially as she was approaching the years of high school and university. They made the right choice because Ms Ghahraman has had access to education and other benefits not available to her, had they stayed in Iran.
Simon Jeans is an accredited specialist in immigration law and on the Best Lawyers list for immigration lawyers in Australia. He is a former member of the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal. He has been working in refugee law since 1990. He has worked with refugees in Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Syria and Australia. Since 2004, he has helped over 1000 Sabean Mandaean refugees from Iraq resettle in Australia. He has travelled throughout Iran, from Tabriz in the north west to Bam near the border with Pakistan, and cities in between including Shiraz, Tehran and Esfahan.
 Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Refugees Convention defines a refugee as a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion and membership of a particular social group if they return to their country.
REFUGEE CLAIMS SYSTEM NEEDS MAJOR REFORM
Herald Sun, Opinions, Thursday 5 April 2018
The onshore refugee status determination system in Australia is broken.
It was implemented in the early 1990s for the caseload of applicants at that time.
But now, it results in thousands of migrants who arrived by boat from Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Bangladesh and Pakistan being accepted as refugees, when they are economic migrants for whom we have no protection obligations.
Between 2008 and 2013, 45,250 migrants arrived by boat and applied for protection. Some 14,800 or 88 percent of those first processed were granted a protection visa, mostly permanent, according to figures from the Australian Parliamentary Library.
Internal Department of Home Affairs figures from November 2017 show that more than 10,000 of the 32,250 unresolved boat arrivals have been granted a temporary protection visa.
(The time periods here overlap because of financial year statistics.)
Some 15,000 remained unresolved, coming from Iran (5800), Sri Lanka (3800), stateless (2200), Afghanistan (1800), Pakistan (1100), Iraq (800) and Vietnam (400).
Of the remaining, 1,700 are on appeal to the Immigration Assessment Authority, while 3,600 have been refused and are likely to have appealed to the federal courts. Appeals to those courts in Melbourne face a three-year backlog.
On current trends, that means about 38,000 migrants who came by boat will eventually stay here permanently.
The purpose of the Sri Lankans coming to Australia by boat was for economic reasons. Many were fishermen from the west coast which was unaffected by the civil war that ended in 2009.
The people of Iran have suffered from international sanctions, their currency has collapsed and future prospects bleak.
The Iranians have, in their thousands, sought out well-meaning but naïve Christians to help them stay in Australia. They have attended churches and undergone fake baptisms, in an attempt to convince the churchgoers and decision-makers that as “Christians”, they will be persecuted in Iran. Others pretend to be homosexual. Even after exhausting all appeals, we cannot remove them because Iran does not accept forced returnees.
The Afghan applicants have been living safely in Pakistan or Kabul for decades, with their own schools, houses and businesses.
As for the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Iraqis, apart from a handful of Christians and minorities, they can live safely throughout their respective countries.
Those who claim to be “stateless” turn out to have a nationality, on closer inspection.
The current rate of acceptance of the most recent boat arrivals is 60 percent.
A more realistic rate of acceptance is 2 percent, after giving the benefit of the doubt. Instead of up to 38,000 visa grants, it should be around 900.
The migrants arriving by boat are supported by advocates within the community. None of these groups have credible first-hand experience in how the system has failed or is being manipulated.
The migrants arriving by boat have significant levels of fraud in claims, identity, employment history, residence and family composition. In many cases, we have no idea who they are.
The high level of visa grants is a result of the failures in the system and not the strength of claims.
First, boat arrivals have government-funded migration agents/lawyers who are sympathetic and assist them to enhance their claims. Many applicants had no idea about many of their claims.
Second, immigration officers conducting protection visa interviews lack training. Few know how to conduct interviews and assess credibility. The primary stage decision-making does not withstand objective scrutiny.
Third, lawyers worked out that by applicants making up to 20 claims, however false or implausible, the case becomes very complex. This made the case very difficult to assess and refuse.
Fourth, if all the numerous claims are all dealt with the tribunal member or IAA officer will not meet their annual target because they will take more time than allowed by the management.
Fifth, some Tribunal members were biased towards the migrants, despite knowing the claims were false. Many have recently been reappointed until 2024.
All these factors, perhaps a “perfect storm”, have combined to create high levels of visa grants for migrants arriving by boat.
Everyone agrees we should assist refugees who are in need of Australia's protection.
However, the processing of migrants who arrived by boat between 2008-2013 has exposed the failure of the refugee legal system, instead offering residence to migrants who are not refugees.
Only a complete reform can provide a new system to deal with the next 25 years.
Simon Jeans is a specialist in immigration law in NSW and has worked for the Jesuit Refugee Service, RACS, UNHCR and Legal Aid
OFFICIALS FACE LIES AND FALSE DOCUMENTATION
The Mercury, Talking Point, Tuesday 10 October 2017
GREG Barns demonises Immigration Department case officers and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton based on slogans and no credible evidence (Talking Point, September 25).
Mr Barns wrote: “The Immigration Department presides over and feeds daily a culture of cruelty.” He described them as the “most sinister and dangerous group of bureaucrats in Australia”. He described Minister Dutton as a “common, garden variety authoritarian”.
These allegations reflect poorly on the opinions of Mr Barns because they fly in the face of the reality facing Mr Dutton, Department of Immigration case officers and Tribunal decision-makers.
As a member of the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal between 2010 and 2015, I reviewed decisions of immigration case officers.
What I found is that case officers are routinely facing a barrage of oral and written lies, false documents, criminal activity, people giving false evidence in statutory declarations, false identities and overseas students using the system to reside and not study.
For example, the market price to bring in a fake spouse is $100,000. It is a significant problem in the Chinese, Vietnamese and Fijian Indian caseload.
In one case, I found that a man had paid money as a fake spouse to get a visa; that meant he could bring his parents here; then he sponsored his brother who pretended to be single to meet the last remaining relative criteria, but was actually married; and the real wife of the man had sponsored another man on a fake spouse visa.
The boat arrivals between 1999-2001 and 2009-2013 provide another example of the massive fraud faced by the Immigration Department.
During the first period, I worked as a lawyer in the detention centres of South Australia and Western Australia. The main group of arrivals were Afghan citizens. They had all been living safely in Pakistan.
Most had left as children by 1996 when the Taliban took control and gone to live in Quetta, Pakistan. They had their own schools, houses, businesses and were at no risk of harm in Pakistan. But they all claimed to have just fled Afghanistan from the Taliban. It was nonsense.
The Immigration Department later started an investigation by sending people to Quetta with photos of the boat arrivals, with a view to identifying them and cancelling their visas, but that became too dangerous after September 11, 2001, and the subsequent conflict.
The main group of arrivals after then prime minister Kevin Rudd opened the border were also Afghans living safely in Pakistan, fishermen from Sri Lanka, Sri Lankans living safely in India, and Iranians.
The Sri Lankan fishermen were mostly from the west coast and untouched by the civil war. They had previously gone to work in the Middle East, but after a downturn in construction there were fewer jobs. So they got a boat to Australia.
The Iranians left Iran legally, not easy with the controls of that regime, and were escaping poor economic conditions caused by international sanctions.
Hundreds have since pretended to convert to Christianity and are supported by well-meaning but naive priests and pastors. Others pretend to be a member of a minority, the Faili Kurds, while other pretend to be homosexual.
The website which reports decisions, www.austlii.edu.au, shows that almost all the refugee cases rejected by the tribunal are done so on the basis of credibility, which is a polite way of saying the applicant lied under oath.
Sometimes the lies and false documents are too hard to deal with or too time consuming.
In the High Court case of S395/2002 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (2003) 216 CLR 473, two men from Bangladesh claimed to be in a homosexual relationship. Four different members of the Refugee Review Tribunal had rejected the case, mostly because they found the applicants were lying and were pretending to be homosexual.
On appeal to a federal court, each decision was remitted to the tribunal because of a legal error. The case remained dormant for more than a year, after which the then principal member conducted a two-hour hearing and allowed the appeal, effectively granting them visas. She handed down the decision in the first week of January 2015.
It is quite common for applicants to “kill off” their relatives to meet visa criteria, such as being an “orphan relative”. In one case I reviewed at the tribunal, the sponsor gave sworn evidence her parents had been killed in Kabul during a rocket attack. A witness came to the hearing and swore he was at the funeral. However, a disgruntled person in Afghanistan had provided photos of the parents, very much alive, and an investigation in Kabul proved the father ran a pharmacy.
I have found in my 27 years as an immigration lawyer that people who lied in visa applications did not retire.
They went on to lie in other systems: social security, tax, workers compensation, personal injury, motor vehicle insurance, first-home buyers’ schemes, car registration and public housing. They also made their way back to the immigration system with a fraudulent case, such as fake spouse.
The minister and Department of Immigration officers are facing an avalanche of lies, false information, false documents, criminal behaviour and potential terrorist threats.
Rather than make allegations without credible evidence, armchair critics such as Mr Barns should support the minister’s efforts to keep Australia safe.
Simon Jeans is an accredited specialist in immigration law in New South Wales. He has worked for the Jesuit Refugee Service, UNHCR and Legal Aid (NSW). He was previously a member of the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal.