Australian-raised Ricardo Bolvaran has become a stranger in a foreign land, lost and confused, after the nation in which he spent 98 per cent of his life deported him to Chile.”I’m lonely, I’m a little bit lost. I’ve thought about suicide a couple of times to tell you the truth,” Mr Bolvaran told Fairfax Media, in his broad Australian accent, from Santiago.
I just thought I was Australian
Mr Bolvaran, who turned 42 on Thursday, came to Australia as a one-year-old when his family fled the Pinochet regime in 1974 and lived in the country since.
Ricardo Bolvaran, pictured with the two youngest of his three children, Photo: Supplied
During his time in Australia he met and fell in love with Rachel Delucia, with whom he has three sons, two of them under the age of 10.
But his life in Australia was not always so idyllic, as Mr Bolvaran freely admitted.
He fell into the wrong crowd, racking up a petty criminal rap sheet that included drug possession and stealing.
Unfortunately for Mr Bolvaran, who lived in Brisbane on a permanent resident visa, he got caught up in changes to the Migration Act that saw visas cancelled if the holders were sentenced to 12 months or more in prison.
Those legislative changes have proven to be a sore point between New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull, given the number of Kiwis affected.
Mr Bolvaran, who could only speak limited Spanish and had no family support network in Chile, was deported last month.
“I miss my kids … It’s my birthday and I miss the hell out of my boys and my partner,” he said.
“I’m so far away from her and everyone. This is where I was born, but I’m lost here. I don’t know what to do with myself.”
Mr Bolvaran was jailed in July after he pleaded guilty to a string of offences, including drug possession, possession of a knife in public and receiving tainted property.
After serving time in the Brisbane Correctional Centre at Wacol, Mr Bolvaran was transferred to Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney to await deportation.
Mr Bolvaran said he recognised he would not have been deported had he taken out Australian citizenship, but he always thought he was Australian, so the prospect had never occurred to him.
“I came (to Australia) when I was one, so I really didn’t think I needed to, or had to,” he said.
“I just thought I was Australian. I was educated in Australia … I’ve got Chilean blood, but I’m Australian bred and everything I know is Australian now.
“I thought permanent residence meant permanent residence, no matter what.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton refused to be interviewed, choosing instead to respond in writing through a spokeswoman.
“Australia welcomes people from around the world to live in our country, but those who chose to abuse our hospitality by committing serious crimes do not deserve to live here if they are not citizens,” she said.
“While some in the media may choose to champion a criminal’s cause, I’m sure the vast bulk of the Australian community support the government’s position of cancelling their visa and removing such people from Australia.
“If a non-citizen’s visa is cancelled under section 501 of the Migration Act, or they complete a custodial sentence and do not hold a valid visa, they will be liable for detention and removal from Australia.”
The Labor opposition was in lock-step with Mr Dutton on the issue.
“Labor supported the legislation when it came before Parliament,” a spokeswoman for shadow immigration minister Richard Marles said.
Sunnybank-based migration lawyer Tony Stolard, who was representing Mr Bolvaran, has applied to have the decision revoked, but he said the fact he was already in Chile could make it harder.
“The chances of him getting that to happen, now that he’s not here, in my opinion are fairly remote,” he said.
“But the spokesman for the minister always says ‘just because you’re offshore doesn’t mean you won’t be heard properly’ and, to me, that’s an absolute lie.”
Those documents, Mr Stolard said, were signed under duress.
“My problem with Ricardo is that they threatened him if he didn’t sign the piece of paper they’d send him to Christmas Island,” he said.
“They just treat people like animals and I’m not sure the minister understands what happens in there.”
In the meantime, Mr Bolvaran said he was struggling to adapt to life in a foreign land.
“I don’t know how to read the newspapers to get a job and I have no access to any internet here,” he said.
“I can communicate as long as people speak slowly to me, but as soon as they start speaking normal they lose me right away and I just feel stupid.”
Mr Bolvaran, a big fan of the NRL’s Bulldogs, was only able to afford a room in a share house in Santiago’s Ñuñoa district, which he described as a “sweatbox”, with the support of Ms Delucia, who remained in Brisbane.
“She’s been helping me all she can,” he said.
“But I don’t want to take too much off her because it’s taking it out of my kids’ mouths.”
Mr Bolvaran said he had lost “a lot of weight” since he arrived in Santiago.
He said he regretted never applying for Australian citizenship.
“I just never thought I had to. I really didn’t think I had to. I’ve never been questioned about my residency or who I am,” Mr Bolvaran said.
“I’ve always been Australian and I never took the time out to think that I had to check up on that sort of thing.
“I was pretty much born there – I turned one on the day I arrived in Australia – that’s why it’s baffled me and I’m so depressed about it all.
“I thought I did my time and I’m a changed man. I’m not the same man I was many years ago when I committed the offences they kicked me out for.
“I just want to be a father to my children, a good father who’ll try to teach them the right way so I handed myself in to finish up those old charges, then I was brought into this sh-t and now I’m here in Chile.”
Less than a fortnight from Christmas, Mr Bolvaran said the situation was taking a huge emotional toll.
“If I don’t see my family soon, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.
In October, the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties said Mr Bolvaran was “essentially Australian”, had been raised “as a product of Australian society” and deportation cases like his deserved to be looked at more closely.