Debra Forster fights back tears as she recounts how she was bundled out of Australia to a country she doesn't know.

The Gold Coast property developer left New Zealand more than 20 years ago but her life in the Lucky Country took a turn for the worse in September 2016 when she was picked up for driving without a current licence.

From this misdemeanour, compounded by failing to appear for a court hearing, the 45-year-old has been incarcerated for months while trying to appeal her case.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Border Force officials burst into her tiny room at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre to execute a deportation order.


"When I was first taken into custody, I thought it would be a matter of hours. Then it became 11 days, then six weeks. Then Immigration wanted to see me and I was transferred to Villawood.

"I went to the detention centre believing my barrister would be filing for my immediate release," she said.

"It's been hell. It just kept going and going, and now this."

She looks around the Auckland bar, claps her hands softy and whispers: "Boom."

Forster was one of 14 individuals - two women and 12 men - flown to Auckland Airport on Tuesday aboard an Australian chartered aircraft.

Restrained in body belts, with wrists cuffed together for the three-hour flight, they were accompanied by 14 Serco officers.

Forster landed in Auckland with $300 and a room booked for two nights at an inner city Auckland tavern, both provided by Corrective Services New South Wales.

She spent the money on clothes. Having lived in Queensland most of her adult life, she found her time in Sydney cold but Auckland was even more bracing.

A tearful Forster speaks to her family on a borrowed phone to let them know she has been flown to Auckland. Photo / Tom Dyton
A tearful Forster speaks to her family on a borrowed phone to let them know she has been flown to Auckland. Photo / Tom Dyton

She is stunned to be told she cannot return to Australia - to her extended family, real estate business, home and pets. She will never reclaim the life she knows.

After 20 months in prison and detention centre custody, she has a large dossier - the latest sheet, her deportation order. The grounds are noted as "failure to pass the character test".

Also in the documents is a reference to a 2012 conviction for "obtaining or dealing with identification information", an identity theft crime. The document states Forster was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment, suspended for 18 months.

She denies the conviction, claiming there are errors throughout her case files. "There's so much that is just plain wrong," she says. "I'd never been charged with anything before, nothing."

The Weekend Herald has requested Forster's court records from Australia but a decision has yet to be made whether the information could be released.

A spokesperson from the Australian Border Force said the department would not comment on specific cases.

"There are strong provisions within the Migration Act 1958 that allow the Minister or a delegate to refuse or cancel a visa if the person is considered to not be of good character, or a risk to the community.

"A person can fail the character test for a number of reasons, including but not limited to where a non-citizen has a substantial criminal record.

"Where a non-citizen's visa is cancelled under the Act, they will be liable for detention and removal from Australia, subject to completion of any custodial sentence imposed."

Forster's Timaru-based mother Mary Tait said she was disgusted with the way Australia had treated her daughter.

"What sort of country does this? And she's not the only one who's been treated like this. They are all being bundled up and shipped out like they are murderers."

Tait said she and her husband Rod had spent at least $20,000 on the case, most of it on lawyers. "We feel like the lawyers are getting in on it. They know they are not going to get a result.

"It's been a nightmare."

Forster claims to have sustained serious injuries from her time in custody, exacerbated by lack of medical attention. She said she has a herniated disc in her neck which is impinging on nerves and a ruptured cartilage in her right hand.

"I've been manhandled so many times, just pushed and thrown around."

The publican offers her a free meal before she has to go, bound for the Auckland City Mission to seek advice on shelter, medical attention and how to build a life from scratch.

A last meal before hitting the streets. Photo / Tom Dyton
A last meal before hitting the streets. Photo / Tom Dyton

"Tagged and released in Auckland," she winces. "Boom."

Section 501

Australia began hardline enforcement of Section 501 in the Migration Act in 2014, deporting all non-citizens who failed a character test.

More than 3000 men and women, known as '501s', have been deported back to their countries of birth.

More than a third - 1300 or almost one a day - were New Zealanders. Most have criminal records, many of whom have lived in Australia almost their entire lives.