Bittersweet feelings as up to 20 asylum-seekers released from detention

The latest release of asylum-seekers from Australian detention centres last Friday has been welcomed by refugee advocate Tim Costello, executive director of Micah Australia.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Iranian refugee Hossein Latifi was one of 10 people released from Melbourne Park Hotel, as advocates estimate around 30 remain in detention across Australia.

SBS reported that a total of at least 18 and as many as 20 were released from immigration detention centres in Victoria, NSW and Queensland last Friday.

The plight of detainees medically evacuated to the Park Hotel from Australia’s offshore detention centres was brought to public consciousness in January when Croatian tennis ace Novak Djokovic was detained there for five days in a dispute over border entry vaccination requirements.

Latifi said no explanation was given on why he and the nine others from the Park Hotel were being released but he worried for the eight friends he left behind there.

Costello welcomed news of the latest release as “a start but not good enough … But at least there’s some movement.”

He pointed out that nearly 600 detainees remained on Manus Island and Nauru and it would take some years for the 150 a year accepted under the New Zealand resettlement program to be released.

“It’s complete nonsense that this policy is about turning back the boats,” he told Eternity.

“No boats are coming; no boats have come for five years. It’s just exaggerated cruelty to lock up people to maintain the fiction that we’re stopping the boats, and it’s just immoral.”

The Guardian reported that when Latifi was released on Friday – his 33rd birthday – it was the first time in almost a decade he had been able to celebrate outside a detention centre. Latifi was first detained in 2013 when he was 24 years old after arriving in Australia by boat. He spent six years on Nauru before he was transferred to Australia for medical treatment in 2020. He hopes to be resettled in New Zealand.

In recent months, the refugees had endured a fire in the hotel, a COVID-19 outbreak, and maggots in their food. But the worst thing was the lack of freedom. Latifi told the Guardian he felt as if a huge weight had been lifted.

“When I was in detention, I felt like my mind was going to blow up,” Latifi said. “But when your feet are outside detention you feel a release. Like you’re born again.”

However, he told reporter Eden Gillespie that he could not be happy while others were in detention.

When asked to verify the latest releases, the Department of Home Affairs said “it does not comment on individual cases.”

“Individuals released from immigration detention are provided transitional support through the status resolution support services program including caseworker support, accommodation and financial assistance,” a spokesperson said.

The department said “the final departure bridging visa” enables asylum seekers to reside in the community “while they make plans to depart Australia”. The visa does not provide a pathway to settlement in Australia.