Six refugees get visas in Australia but the suffering is far from over

Six more refugees in Australia were granted visas and released from immigration detention, which allowed them to gain temporary freedom while striving to stay in a third country or seeking a more permanent home.

The Ministry of the Interior issued visas to all six men, and five of them were held in the detention facility of the Melbourne Park Hotel, which has become a hot spot for COVID-19 infection.

The sixth refugee was held in a separate detention center in Brisbane.

All six were released under a special visa category, which would allow them to stay in Australia temporarily while arranging to leave the country. They were previously held in a detention center in the Pacific, and later medically evacuated to Australia in 2019.

The visa granted to them is not a means of permanent resettlement in Australia. But when they expire, refugees can apply to extend them.

One of the refugees, Jeeva, told Al Jazeera that he was still shocked after learning that he was released. His name has been changed to protect his privacy.

“[Wednesday] afternoon [at] I knew it at one o’clock,” he recalled. “They just told me [that] ‘Minister approved [my visa] So we want you [free].'”

Jeeva had 45 minutes to pack his luggage, and then he was taken to Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) to pick up the remaining items, and finally to a hotel.

“Words cannot describe” Liberty, he said, adding that he could finally breathe fresh air and walk without security.

“I will eat my traditional food,” Jeeva said, adding that he could not cook his native Sri Lankan food while in custody.

‘Easier to release them’

According to lawyer Noeline Balasanthiran Harendran, the timing of the release cannot be coincidental. Harendran and colleague Daniel Taylor represent the six refugees.

A similar situation happened in November, when Three clients of Harendran and Taylor also obtained bridging visas, Just a few days before their hearing.

Hallendran said that in both cases, the government might find it easier to send refugee visas for medical evacuation, rather than responding to the arguments made by her and Taylor.

This case is all based on a simple requirement of international law for the Australian government to assess the safety of returning refugees to regional processing countries: Manus Island and Nauru in Papua New Guinea.

The released refugees were previously held in Australia’s infamous Pacific Regional Processing System, and then taken to Australia for land detention under the Medical Evacuation Plan (a short-term medical evacuation plan).

A “Refugee Welcome Area” sign appeared outside a public housing complex that was blocked due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne in 2020 [File: Sandra Sanders/Reuters]

They are at risk of being sent back to the area for processing, and the system is widely condemned as grossly insecure, so they applied for the right of non-refoulement assessment before the transfer. Repatriation is the act of forcibly returning refugees to a country where they may be persecuted.

Harendran explained that such an assessment is an obligation under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and Australia is a signatory to the Convention.

“If a person is afraid of their own life, we need to evaluate them,” she said.

“In terms of procedural fair evaluation, my client has a safe and reliable way of speaking, he has legal representatives, he has an interpreter, and judicial review.”

Instead, the government granted all six refugee visas.

“The Elephant in the Room”

Hallendran said that the elephants in the room are these statements about the government’s confidence in the processing of the area itself.

“Obviously, if you don’t want to conduct a non-refoulement assessment, there will be some problems with regional processing,” Harendran said.

She said that even if a non-refoulement assessment is conducted and Nauru and Papua New Guinea are assessed as unsafe for the person, this may mean the end of the regional process.

“[It] It means Nauru and Papua New Guinea will not be safe places for us to send refugees,” she explained.

Now there is only freedom

But in the near future, Hallendran said, the goal is to achieve freedom for her remaining clients.

She and Taylor are preparing to file another set of cases within the next month for the same reason.

At the same time, 75 medical evacuation refugees detained in regional processing are now in Australia, but are still struggling in prison.

Mehdi Ali, a refugee still detained in the Park Hotel, recalled a refugee who was released on Wednesday crying as he left.

“I thought,’What’s wrong? Don’t cry, man,” I hugged him, and I said, “Don’t cry, go out… Keep going, don’t even look back. [you],'” He said.

The refugee told Ali that he was happy with his freedom when the people were still inside.

Mehdi said that those who stayed can only suffer.

Another refugee, Amin Afravi, who was detained at the Brisbane immigration transit accommodation and Fraser Compound (BITA), said he could “feel” the pain of fellow refugees who are still being held .

“People actually feel very bad,” he said. “When they saw someone being released and detained for no reason, there was no explanation.”

“They are slowly killing people”

Al Jazeera contacted the Ministry of the Interior about the six refugees released on Wednesday, but a department spokesperson said that “the department does not comment on individual cases.”

“The Australian government’s policy has not changed. Illegal maritime immigrants will not settle in Australia.

“Individuals released from immigration detention receive transitional support through the Identity Resolution Support Service Program, which includes caseworker support, accommodation, and financial assistance.”

At the same time, activists are still calling for the release of all Medevac refugees, such as Mehdi and Amin, who remain in immigration detention facilities.

Ian Rintoul, a political activist and spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, said that “although the release is welcome,” the lack of explanation can increase the anxiety and stress levels of those left behind.

“If the other six people can be released, then everyone else can be released. There really is no reason to detain these people again,” he said.

Currently, Amin says that he is just “trying to survive” and focusing on things he can control.

“They slowly killed people during their detention,” he said.

“If you lose your mind, there is nothing in this world [that] Can bring back your thoughts.People are losing their minds[s]. So what is the difference between a corpse, a dead person, and someone [who has] Lost your mind? “

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