Deported woman lived on local streets asking for help

WRONGLY deported woman Vivian Alvarez spent two desperate months living on the streets of Lismore before she was hurt in a mysterious accident and picked up by immigration officers.

As the Federal Government and lawyers wrestle over when Ms Alvarez is to return home and what support she will receive when she gets here, one of her few friends from her time in Lismore, Brian Lucas, tells The Northern Star what he knows about how she came to be on the Northern Rivers, how she struggled to hold her life together and why no-one knew she was an Australian citizen.


WRONGLY deported woman Vivian Alvarez lived a desperate life on the streets of Lismore before her mysterious accident and ejection from the country four years ago.

One of Ms Alvarez's few local friends, Bexhill man Brian Lucas, yesterday said he met Ms Alvarez about two months before she was deported, when she tried to cadge a cigarette from him in town.

"She looked that skinny. She must have weighed about 43kg," Mr Lucas said. "I said to her 'I don't smoke, but do you want something to eat?'"

It wasn't the start of a close friendship, but Mr Lucas said he would often see Ms Alvarez when he came into town ? she would usually ask him to buy cigarettes for her ? and got to know a little about her.

Ms Alvarez is now the focus of national attention as the Federal Government tries to find how an Australian citizen could have been kicked out of the country.

At the core of that mystery is what Ms Alvarez, who had been believed to have lived in Brisbane, was doing in Lismore, and what happened to her before she was deported.

Mr Lucas said Ms Alvarez had told her she moved to Lismore because she had been having problems with her husband.

He rejected media reports that Ms Alvarez had lived with him while in Lismore, saying he did not know where she was staying, or who else she knew.

He said no one, including Ms Alvarez, appeared to know what happened to her on the night of her accident.

However, he said he was told that her injuries were not consistent with having been hit by a car, leaving open the possibility that she had been attacked.

A retired social worker who dealt with Ms Alvarez after the accident, Betty Graham-Higgs, said Ms Alvarez had been found in one of the stormwater drains in the park between Uralba and Magellan streets.

The accident shattered Ms Alvarez's body and Mr Lucas said she lost a lot of mobility.

"I told the social worker that if they sent her back to the Philippines, they may as well just put a bullet in her head," he said.

"She had no use of her arms and legs, and they were sending her to a country where people are flat out feeding themselves."

He said he had been surprised to see her on television alive and well-fed.

Mr Lucas said he alerted the region's Filipino community to the fact that Ms Alvarez was in hospital, but she was gone by the time one of them, Luz Press, arrived with a gift of oranges.

Mr Lucas described Ms Alvarez as a good but 'scatty' woman who did not recognise her situation as desperate.

"I don't think she felt that way. She was pretty easygoing. She was a very good-hearted lady. Very religious," he said.

However, he also said that she plainly suffered some form of mental illness and attributed that to her eventual deportation.

"She went back to the Philippines several times, and then she probably just forgot she had an Australian passport and applied for a tourist visa," he said.

Mr Lucas said he had not known Ms Alvarez was an Australian citizen.

"You can't blame the Government if she was here on a holiday visa. Even if she had a passport prior to that you can't blame the Government for sending her back."

However, he said he wasn't happy about lawyers lining up to fight for compensation on Ms Alvarez's behalf. "Everyone's jumping on the bandwagon," he said.

Mr Lucas said he feared 'hangers-on' would gobble up any compensation money given to Ms Alvarez. Any compensation should be in the form of a weekly or fortnightly pension to prevent it being consumed by opportunists, he said.

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