Six refugees granted visas in Australia, but the ordeal is not over yet Human Rights News

Six other refugees in Australia have been granted visas and released from immigration detention centres, giving them temporary freedom while they struggle to survive or search for a permanent home in a third country.

The Department of Home Affairs has granted visas to all six men, five of whom are being held in the Melbourne detention center at the Park Hotel, which has become a hotspot for COVID-19 infection.

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

All six have been released on a special visa category, which will allow them to remain temporarily in Australia while arrangements are made to leave the country. They were previously held in Pacific detention centers and were later medically evacuated to Australia in 2019.

The visas granted to them are not pathways to permanent resettlement in Australia. But when it expires, refugees can apply to extend it.

One refugee, Jiva, told Al Jazeera that he was still in shock after learning of his release. His name has been changed to protect his privacy.

“[Wednesday] afternoon [at] He remembers one o’clock in the afternoon. They just told me [that] Minister agreed [my visa] So we will prepare you [free]. “

Jiva was given 45 minutes to pack her belongings before he was taken to the Melbourne Immigration in Transit Center (MITA) to collect the rest of his belongings, and finally dropped off at a hotel.

“Words can’t describe” the freedom, he said, adding that he can finally breathe some fresh air and walk without security guards.

“I will eat my traditional food,” said Jiva, adding that he could not cook his own local Sri Lankan food while in detention.

‘Easier to release’

The timing of the release could not have been by chance, according to attorney Nolin Balasantiran Harendran. Harendran and his colleague Daniel Taylor, who represented the six refugees.

A similar situation happened in November when Three of Harendran and Taylor’s clients were also granted temporary visas, just days before the hearings.

In either case, Harendran said, the government is likely to find it easier to grant visas to Medevac refugees than to respond to the arguments she and Taylor have made.

The whole case is based on a simple requirement under international law for the Australian government to assess the safety of refugee return to regional processing countries: Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and Nauru.

The released refugees were all previously held in Australia’s notorious regional processing system in the Pacific Ocean, before being taken to beach detention in Australia under Medevac, a short-lived medical evacuation scheme.

A ‘Refugee Welcome Zone’ sign is seen outside a closed public apartment tower in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne in 2020 [File: Sandra Sanders/Reuters]

They were at risk of being sent back to regional processing, a system widely condemned as dangerously unsafe, so they were applying for the right to a non-refoulement assessment before they were transferred. Forcible return is the process of forcibly returning refugees to a country where they would be at risk of persecution.

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

“If a person fears for their life, we need to assess them,” she said.

“Fair procedural evaluation, where my clients are given a safe and secure way to speak, where they are legally represented, where they have an interpreter, and where there is judicial review.”

Instead, the government granted all six refugee visas.

‘The Elephant in the Room’

The elephant in the room is what these accounts say about the government’s confidence in the regional processing itself, Harendran said.

“Obviously there are some problems with regional processing if you don’t want to do non-refoulement assessments,” Harendran said.

She said that if one assessment of non-refoulement was made and Nauru and Papua New Guinea were assessed as unsafe for that individual, it could mean the end of regional processing.

“[It] It would mean that Nauru and Papua New Guinea would not be a safe place for us to send refugees.

For now, only freedom

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

She and Taylor are preparing another set of cases to present within the next month, with the same argument.

Meanwhile, 75 of the Medevac refugees who were detained in regional proceedings are now ashore in Australia but remain behind bars.

Mehdi Ali, a refugee still detained at the Park Hotel, remembers one of the refugees released on Wednesday crying as he left.

“I was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ Don’t cry man, I hugged him and said, Don’t cry, just get out… go ahead and don’t even look back [you],'” He said.

In response, the refugee told Ali that he was not happy about his freedom while the people were still inside.

Mahdi said that those left behind can only suffer.

Another refugee, Amin Afrafi, who is being held at immigrant housing in Brisbane and the Fraser Complex (Beta), said he was “feeling” the pain of his fellow refugees who remain behind bars.

“Actually people feel really bad,” he said. “When they see someone being released and kept in detention for no reason, there is no explanation.”

They are slowly killing people.

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

Australian government policies have not changed and illegal sea arrivals in Australia will not be settled.

“Individuals released from an immigrant detention center receive transitional support through the Case Resolution Support Services program, including caseworker support, accommodation, and financial assistance.”

Meanwhile, activists are still calling for the release of all medical refugees like Mahdi and Amin remaining inside immigration detention centers.

Ian Rintoul, political activist and spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, said that while their release was “welcome,” the lack of explanation raises levels of anxiety and stress for those left behind.

“If it’s OK to release six others, it’s OK to release anyone else, there’s really no justification for holding people anymore,” he said.

For now, Amin said he’s only “trying to survive,” and focus on what he can control.

“They are slowly killing people while in detention,” he said.

“If you lose your mind, there is nothing in this world [that] It can reset your mind. People are losing their minds[s]. So what is the difference between a corpse, a dead person, and a person [who has] he lost his mind? “

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo