Australia Medevac detainees have been freed after years in Australia's immigration detention system. Here's why, and what may happen next

09:51  21 january  2021
09:51  21 january  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Key points Dozens of Medevac detainees have been freed from immigration detention in Melbourne More have been told they'll be freed on Thursday, according to advocates and lawyers Before being transferred to Australia for medical treatment, the men had spent years in

A large number of refugees brought to Australia under the now repealed medevac legislation have been released from immigration detention . You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

a group of people sitting posing for the camera: A photo posted by Kurdish refugee Mostafa © Provided by ABC News A photo posted by Kurdish refugee Mostafa "Moz" Azimitabar, who called his release "the most beautiful moment of my life". (Twitter: Mostafa Azimitabar)

Refugee advocates say 46 people have been released from detention in a Melbourne hotel after more than a year in Australia under medevac laws.

They were brought to Australia for urgent medical care after spending years in Australia's offshore processing facilities in Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Nauru.

But their release does not mark the end of what has been years in Australia's immigration detention system.

Here's what we know so far, and what still remains unanswered.

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Why were they in a hotel to begin with?

The asylum seekers and refugees were flown into Australia from Manus and Nauru under the so-called Medevac laws, which gave doctors more power over whether refugees and asylum seekers should come to the country for medical treatment.

The legislation was passed in February 2019 in a shock defeat for the Government. It was repealed in December of that year.

There were 192 "transitory persons" brought into Australia during the months it was in effect, Senate Estimates heard last March. By October 2020, estimates heard 17 had been resettled in a third country.

Many of the men were housed in what the Department of Home Affairs calls Alternative Places of Detention, or APODs — first the Mantra Hotel in Preston, then the Park Hotel in Carlton in Melbourne, and the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel in Brisbane.

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Medevac detainees freed from… In the video, Hunt reportedly said, "they're going to come after us, they're gonna kill us, so we have to kill them first so get your guns, show up to DC….if anybody has a gun, give me it, I'll go there myself and shoot them and kill them."

Why are they being released now?

Advocate groups and lawyers for some of the men say 26 people were released from Melbourne's Park Hotel on Wednesday, and a further 20 were moved on Thursday.

One of the men who was moved today, Kurdish musician and refugee Mostafa "Moz" Azimitabar, said his release was "the most beautiful moment of my life".

"After 2,737 days locked up in detention — I am free," he said.

"I am very excited."

He said he had lived with torture, drama and sadness and "now I am free like a bird."

"Like a person who can work, who can pay tax, who can see friends and I am very happy about that," he said.

Mr Azimitabar is, however, disappointed he is not allowed to study.

"I am sure even criminals in jail are supported to study. I am a part of this society, like others — why am I not allowed to study," he asked.

They were transferred to the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) detention centre before being released.

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Advocates and refugees yesterday said they had been given little explanation for why they had been released now.

But Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has today said the decision was based on the cost of holding people in the hotels.

"It's cheaper for people to be in the community than it is to be at a hotel or for us to be paying for them to be in detention," he told radio station 2GB.

"And if they've demonstrated to not be a threat or that's the assessment that's been made by the experts, then it is cheaper for them to go out into the community until they depart."

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) humanitarian services director Sherrine Clark told ABC Radio Melbourne her "cynical" side believed they were being released because regular public protests and pressure from the detainees themselves had made it an "uncomfortable" issue for the Government.

"The hopeful side is that they're finally understanding that people came here for really important medical treatment, their years of indefinite detention offshore have caused significant health and mental health issues, and it's time for the Australian Government, Australian people to understand the particular circumstances for these people," she said.

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Farhad Bandesh, who was released in similar circumstances in December, said life had been "amazing" for the past month.

"When you walk free, when you sleep free, no-one is bothering you, you have more privacy, and I think the world belongs to you when you're free," he said.

What will they do in Australia?

Under Australia's immigration policy from successive Labor and Liberal governments, asylum seekers who arrive by boat are told they will never be settled in the country.

The Government says that's to stop the business of people smugglers and stop people from drowning on the dangerous sea journey into Australian waters.

Mr Dutton said many of the released men were on a final departure bridging visa before they left the country.

The ASRC said the visas gave the men work rights and Medicare access for six months.

Final departure bridging visas, officially called the Bridging visa E subclass 050, lets people stay lawfully in Australia "while you make arrangements to leave, finalise your immigration matter or wait for an immigration decision".

While they wait to find out what happens next, the ASRC's Ms Clark said the welfare and refugee sectors were getting together to work out how to house and feed the former detainees.

She said the sector was "already very stretched" as many other people seeking asylum had lost casual work in the pandemic and were unable to access JobKeeper or JobSeeker.

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Advocates have warned after seven or eight years in detention, it will be difficult for many to find work.

"Unfortunately, many will be dependent entirely on charity," Ms Clark said.

"But there will be opportunities for people to work and we hope with a lot of support that they will be able to find work and gain independence."

Farhad Bandesh, who was brought to Australia for physical and mental health reasons, has been living and working in regional Victoria since his release.

He said while he could get a Medicare card, his medical treatment was not yet guaranteed.

But what about permanent resettlement?

We still don't know where they will go once their six-month bridging visas run out.

At the time the medevac bill was debated then passed, Mr Dutton said it would be hard for Australia to return those who came here under the legislation.

"And that's certainly the case now," he said today.

"Some of these cases are before the court or threatening to go to court at the moment."

Refugee Action Collective spokesman Chris Breen pointed to action before the Federal Circuit Court as a possible reason the men were being released now, saying the first seven men released all had court action underway.

The Home Affairs spokesperson said that people who had been living in the APODs "are encouraged to finalise their medical treatment so they can continue on their resettlement pathway to the United States, return to Nauru or PNG or return to their home country".

But ASRC Detention Advocacy Caseworker Nina Field said there were not enough places left in the US or Canadian resettlement deals with Australia.

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"There are going to be many people who need a permanent home," she said.

Mr Breen said the US resettlement plan, signed in late 2016, was "done" and said other options needed to be found.

"Papua New Guinea and Nauru are not taking back Australia's refugees, there is no agreement to take them back," he said.

"And the vast majority of these people have been found to be refugees, that means they can't be [returned] to their home countries, they can't be deported to danger."

Tamil refugee Ramsi Sabanayagan, who was one of the men released from the Park Hotel on Wednesday, told the ABC he had sent multiple requests in recent months to be returned to PNG but did not receive a response.

What happens to the people still in the hotels?

Advocates say there are still about another 120 refugees left in APODs across Australia. The Refugee Action Collective says there are 14 people left at Melbourne's Park Hotel, about 100 at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane, and more around Australia.

"We're really unsure about what is going to happen to those particular people," the ASRC's Sherrine Clark said.

Home Affairs did not respond to a question about the criteria upon which men were deemed eligible to leave the hotel.

One of the men left behind at the Park Hotel is Don Khan, a Rohingya man from Myanmar, who had been on Manus Island since arriving at 17 years old in 2013. He was transferred to Australian in June 2019 for psychological distress.

"What is the difference between them [the released men] and me?" he said.

"I am also a refugee, those people are all refugees, what is the difference between us?"

He said the remaining men had been told by Australian Border Force officials that his case was still being processed.

"We don't know when we will get free from here," he said.

Video: Medvac refugees released from immigration detention (ABC NEWS)

Refugees close to year in hotel detention .
Fifteen refugees, including seven women, have been held at a Darwin hotel since flying from Nauru for medical treatment eleven months ago.Seven women and eight men, couples and families, have been held at a fenced-off area at the Mercure Darwin Airport Resort since they touched down on February 27, 2020.

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