Melbourne, Australia – After years of detention – first in remote immigration detention centers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the Pacific island nation of Nauru, and later in suburban hotels in Melbourne – eventually dozens of refugees who tried to reach Australia by boat were liberated.
But while they have been free to move back to the community since April, they are on loan.
The temporary six-month visas they are granted by the Australian government have restrictions on movement and work opportunities. There is also an expectation that they will use the time to prepare to leave the country – whether returning to their country of origin or a third country.
Many of the released refugees are also facing trauma about what they have been through.
“Sometimes I have a dream. I was running and the guard was following me. They wanted to shoot at me,” Farhad Bandesh told Al Jazeera.
“And suddenly, there was a kind of bridge – I jumped off the bridge – and when I jumped, I woke up. And when I woke up, I was safe – the guards didn’t hurt me.”
Bandesh, 40 years old, is one of 250 people who have been released from what the Australian government calls Alternative Detention Centers (APODs) – suburban hotels – since December 2020.
A Kurdish man escaping repression by the Iranian government, Bandesh arrived in Australia by boat in 2013 to seek asylum.
But instead of the humanitarian assistance he expected, Bandesh was sent to immigration detention on Manus Island, where he spent six years.
There, he witnessed the riots and brutality of the guards prisoner shooting, along with experiencing daily deprivations in harsh prison conditions.
After being transferred to Australia for medical assistance, Bandesh was then locked for a further nine months in a suburban Melbourne hotel before being released on a six-month visa in December 2020.
Although the visa allows him to live in the community, his ability to work and access social security benefits is limited.
Furthermore, Bandesh told Al Jazeera that the nature of his temporary existence made it impossible for him to plan for the future.
“You can’t build or even think about your life. You’re still living in limbo,” he said. “You are not a resident here. You cannot raise a family here because you are on a temporary visa. You can’t have a business here.”
He told Al Jazeera that he could not return to Iran because he was in danger of being executed.
Take control of your life
Jana Favero is the director of advocacy and campaigns at the Refugee Resource Centre, a Melbourne-based community organization that supports refugees and asylum seekers across a range of areas, including medical assistance. health, homelessness, advocacy, education and legal aid.
She told Al Jazeera that the effect of the temporary visa on people is very difficult.
“While freedom and release from custody is the number one priority for everyone, the reality is that living in the community on a temporary visa is quite difficult and fairly quick,” she said. .
“The government is still controlling their lives and fate through the visas they have.”
While the Australian government provides three weeks of support for detainees to be released, along with basic support such as food, shelter and a one-time payment, Favero told Al Jazeera that once the period is over When that is over, the refugees will be free.
“After those three weeks, they will find work and support themselves, after being incarcerated for nine years,” she said.
“Very few of them can be sure about their resettlement path and where and when they will go. That’s more queues and more processing. ”
Increased pressure on temporary visa holders is known as rule ‘501’whereby temporary visa holders can be detained again for minor legal offenses or for even more obscure reasons.
“Minister has power like God under Section 501,,” said Favero. “People have been re-arrested not for committing any crimes – it’s just based on so-called ‘character bases’.”
Small change opportunity
Despite the traumatic experiences of people like Bandesh and the pressures of life on temporary visas, Australia has been adamant about not permanently settling asylum seekers by boat.
And new labor governmentelected over the weekend, is expected to uphold the country’s strict border protection policy.
A Home Office spokesperson told Al Jazeera that “temporary people will not be able to settle in Australia.” [and] are encouraged to participate in third country migration options and to take steps to begin the next stage of life, including resettling in a third country or voluntarily returning to their home country or to another country. other countries to which they have the right to enter. ”
“Resettlement agreements exist with the United States and New Zealand, and many temporary residents are also independently exploring resettlement in Canada. Community detention and final departure bridging visas allow people to temporarily reside in the community while they plan to leave Australia. “
Nick McKim is a Greens Party Senator and handles immigration portfolios for his party. He told Al Jazeera that current policy – held by the major Liberal and Labor parties – needed to change.
He thinks it is necessary to end overseas detention in order to provide permanent protection to people like Bandesh who have been sent to Manus Island and Nauru.
He also said that Australia should increase its refugee quota to 50,000 people a year, which is currently at 45-year low is 13,500.
The Greens also advocated the creation of a Royal Commission to treat refugees detained on Manus Island.
He told Al Jazeera: “This has always been a humanitarian disaster and it is one of the darkest and bloodiest chapters written in the Australian national story.
“We should treat those who extend their arms and ask for our help with kindness and courtesy, and treat them according to the international commitments we have made.”
Despite the uncertain day-to-day living on a temporary visa, Bandesh has teamed up with friend and refugee advocate Jenel Quinsee to become the face of Bandesh Wine and Spirits.
Brewing Kurdish, gin and arak – a strong anise – under Quinsee’s business acumen, Bandesh found a purpose in life and a means to share his culture and story through advertising. my product.
“Arak is the first arak produced in Australia and around the world. I’m so glad I’m doing this with Janell to share this beautiful spirit and wine with the Australian people,” he said. “It’s unique because there isn’t any Kurdish gin in the world.”
However, Bandesh remains conflicted about his treatment of the Australian government and wonders when it will end.
“I don’t understand why this government keeps refugees in limbo. They can save money first, save skills [and save] Bandesh said.
“It’s really simple and easy – I’m here, I’m drinking. Why can’t other refugees be like me? They have this right and the government should think about it just for a second – what they are doing is wrong. ”