Iranian refugee Hossein Latifi said he was one of 18 detainees still left at the Park Hotel. On Friday night, the 32-year-old had waited anxiously to see if his name would be called.
“I thought maybe my name is on the list. When they said it was only these nine people, other people got very upset, very disappointed,” he said.
Earlier that night Ismail Hussein had been lying on his bed with “no hope, depressed”.
When released, he was taken with another five men to West City Motel in Ardeer, where he has accommodation for a few weeks. He said he would receive $150 a week for three weeks, and was placed on a final departure bridging visa E, which allows him to stay for six months and work while he applies to migrate to another country.
The visa does not provide a path to settlement in Australia but does give him access to Medicare. After six months he will need to reapply for the same visa if he has not found asylum in another country.
Mr Hussein said two people were placed on community detention orders, which allowed them to stay but not work. He still did not know why he was released.
He arrived by boat and was detained on Manus Island, where his mental health crumbled after many years in detention. In late 2019 he was brought to Australia with kidney and bladder issues, PTSD and high blood pressure. He was first housed at another hotel for a year before being taken to the Park.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, which plans to support the recently released refugees, said it had been in constant contact with the federal government asking to be notified of any release so it could respond with help.
The centre’s director of advocacy, Jana Favero, said that to release the detainees at 9pm on a Friday before a long weekend without notifying support agencies was unfair.
“To be dumped after nine years with such little timing, we want them to have the best possible entry into freedom as they can and the government still exerts their power and cruelty,” Ms Favero said.
She said there was no rhyme or reason as to why this group had been chosen and that since 2020 there had been 210 people released from detention.
“I do think there will be more releases because there is almost no reason to keep people detained. Unfortunately, [officials] manage to make a stress and mess of it.”
Bangladeshi Muhammad Joy Miah, 41, also had his first taste of freedom in almost nine years on Friday night. He arrived in 2013 by boat and was taken to Christmas Island, where he lived for 10 months, then to Nauru for six years before he was brought to Australia in 2020 under so-called medevac laws relating to bringing unwell asylum seekers to Australia for treatment .
He is now staying on a bridging visa at UniLodge in Melbourne’s CBD and expects to receive documentation on Wednesday.
“We don’t know what is going on and how long we will stay here,” he said.
The limbo continues for those left behind at the Park Hotel.
Mr Latifi said he was happy to see his friends released and that after such a long time together they were like family.
“We are always wondering, ‘What about us? What is the difference between us and them?”
He can’t open the windows in his room, so he hardly gets fresh air. Now no one left their rooms, Mr Latifi said.
He said people who committed a crime would get a sentence and a release date. “But in our situation almost nine years, without any crime, no one says, ‘OK, you guys, next few weeks you will be out.’ ”
A Home Affairs Department spokesman said he would not comment on individual cases but the Australian government’s policies had not changed and asylum seekers arriving by boat would not be settled in Australia.
“Individuals released from immigration detention are provided transitional support through the Status Resolution Support Services program including caseworker support, accommodation and financial assistance,” he said.
Mr Hussein said he felt “like a human being again”.
“I felt like my soul came back to me and my spirit. I felt like I was reborn again. You know I was so happy.”
But his release is bittersweet.
“You cannot be completely happy if you leave your close friends in the same situation that you were in,” he said.
“I could see the sorrow and sadness in their eyes. My heart breaks for them.”
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