Man who escaped Australian prison 30 years ago faces deportation to a country that no longer exists

Desic escaped out of fear that once his prison term is over he would be sent to Yugoslavia

Namita Singh
Friday 29 October 2021 09:09
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<p>Lawyer Paul McGirr says his client earned the ‘love and respect’ of his community in Sydney </p>

Lawyer Paul McGirr says his client earned the ‘love and respect’ of his community in Sydney

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A fugitive who surrendered to the Australian police almost three decades after escaping from prison now faces the threat of being deported — to a country that no longer exists.

Darko Desic, a national of the erstwhile country of Yugoslavia, has been evading arrest since 1992, when he broke out jail while serving a 33-month term in prison for growing marijuana. Now 64, he surrendered to the police in September after the lockdown in Sydney left him jobless and homeless.

As he walked into the police station at the beach suburb of Dee Why to serve the 14 months of the remaining prison sentence, Desic confessed to breaking out of Grafton Prison. He used a hacksaw blade to cut through his cell’s window bars. With bolt cutters that he found in a shed within the prison grounds, he cut through a perimeter fence, a court was told on Thursday, reported news.com.au.

The magistrate of Sydney’s Central Local Court imposed an additional two months to Desic’s sentence for escaping prison. The offence carries a maximum term of 10 years.

The judge accepted that Desic escaped due to “real fears” that once his prison term is over, he would be deported to his homeland, which was then known as Yugoslavia. And that upon his return, he would have been forced to join the military during the war that went on from 1991 to 1995 and led to the breakup of Yugoslavia — a federation of seven republics cobbled together.

During the conflict, which led to the creation of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, more than 100,000 people lost their lives, according to the International Centre for Transitional Justice.

Outside the Sydney court, Desic’s attorney Paul McGirr said he received a letter from the Australian Border Forces that he would be deported soon after his release from prison in December 2022. But since the country he belonged to no longer exists, it is unclear where Desic would be deported to.

“Bearing in mind he doesn’t have the same country left to go back to being Yugoslavia,” Mr McGirr said. “Hopefully someone with a bit of common sense looks at that.”

“However, we are seeking clemency from the attorney general and the governor general … that’s in the process now,” he added.

Desic lived and worked as a handyman in Sydney’s fashionable northern beach suburb, and earned the “love and respect” of his community, said Mr McGirr. Desic committed no further crimes but has lived under the constant fear and burden of not knowing when he might be arrested, he added.

The outbreak of the contagious Delta variant led to a lockdown in Sydney. As a result, Desic’s income started drying up, forcing him to sleep in sand dunes. His attorney said that the public raised about A$ 30,000 (£16,300) through fundraising campaigns, to support his legal costs and housing bills since his arrest.

The magistrate also acknowledged that Desic has changed in the decades that have passed since his conviction. “He clearly has made an important impact on the community,” Magistrate Jennifer Atkinson said.

But prosecutor Scott William said that the case evoked a “romantic idea” of a prison break, and demanded a full-time custodial sentence. He had added that it was needed to ensure that other prisoners contemplating breaking out of prisons knew that they would be penalised “no matter how long after escape when captured”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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