After being released from eight years of detention, Thanush Selvarasa was relieved but quickly discovered that his newfound freedom had some serious limitations.
“I’m on a transfer visa, which only lasts for six months, when it’s over, I do not know if I’ll be allowed to stay in Australia,” he told The Feed.
“During my visa, I am not allowed to study or fly abroad, it makes it difficult to get a job when the boss sees that you only have a few months left on your visa. I still live in limbo. ”
Thanush, 30, was in his early twenties when he fled Sri Lanka in 2013. After trying to arrive in Australia by boat, he was detained on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea and then in the Park Hotel in Melbourne.
In 2013, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that no one arriving by boat will ever be resident permanently in Australia. It is a policy that has been maintained by every government since then.
Thanush was one of 192 refugees to be brought to Australia under the 2019 Medevac legislation, which allowed offshore refugees to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment.
Most were held in hotel detention before being gradually released between December 2020 and January 2021.
At the time of their release, the government said medical treatment would not be a path to settlement in Australia.
Thanush told The Feed that despite being detained for years by the Australian government, he wants to contribute to the country and build a life here.
“I have already had enough pain in my life, to be separated from my family and not have to fly abroad to visit them. Life is short, we should have the right to enjoy it,” he said.
“But it is out of our hands that the immigration authority makes the decision for us.”
Limited visa options and discretionary powers
Dr. Carolyn Graydon, the primary counsel at the Asylum Seeker Resource Center in Melbourne, told The Feed that medevac refugees are only given one visa option, namely the final departure that bridges the gap between visa E.
“The length of their visa is entirely up to either the immigration minister or the interior minister’s estimate, they could give a visa for five years or five minutes if they wanted to,” said Dr. Graydon.
“On this bridge visa, they have no income support, so if they lose their jobs, they are completely dependent on charities.”
“Many of the refugees are becoming very stressed towards the end of their visas because they are dependent on the Minister intervening personally to allow them to stay.”
Dr. Graydon said the system is designed to remove people’s rights and move them outside the justice system, with very little responsibility for the minister’s decisions.
“Because it’s a personal decision by the minister, the only sense of responsibility is in parliament, and there are thousands of people dependent on those kinds of decisions during the year, so it’s almost impossible to hold any kind of responsibility,” she said. to The Feed.
Farhad Bandesh is another medevac refugee living under these circumstances. He told The Feed that he was working in a winery when his visa expired.
“I had to go without work for two months as I did not have a visa and there were lockdowns during that time,” he said.
“I applied for permanent residence, but they only gave me the same transitional visa for six months.”
“I want to be the first Kurdish winemaker in the world”
Farhad, 40, fled Iran in 2013, where he was persecuted because of his Kurdish ethnicity. He tried to arrive in Australia by boat and was put in offshore jail before being transported to Australia.
When he was released in December 2020, Farhad had been detained for eight years. During that time he wrote music and painted works of art.
He told The Feed that he was able to get in touch with Australian artists through his work and was offered residences after his release
“I love Australian people, I have deep connections and friendships here with artists and musicians, so I do not want to lose it [friendships]. I have already lost a family, I do not want to lose my Australian family, ”he said.
Farhad told The Feed that his passion lies in making wine, but because of his visa, he is unable to study and get a liquor license.
“I want to be the first Kurdish wine producer in the world, but my visa prevents that,” he said.
“Yes, I’m free of hotel detention, but there are a lot of restrictions. I want to be in the wine industry, but I still feel like I’m trapped in a cage and I can be detained again at any time.”
The possibilities for resettlement
A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs told The Feed that Australia’s border protection policies remain unshakable.
“People who travel illegally to Australia by boat will not settle here. “Temporary transfer to Australia to receive medical treatment is not a way to a solution,” the spokesman said.
“Passers-by are encouraged to complete their medical treatment so that they can resettle in the United States or another third country or return home voluntarily.”
Dr. Graydon told The Feed that global resettlement sites are in short supply for medevac refugees who have to compete with many other displaced people around the world.
“There are about 1,200 resettlement places in the United States, most of which have been occupied,” she said.
“Which makes it particularly regrettable that for years Australia has not accepted New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 migrants a year.”
The spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said Australia appreciates the resettlement offer from New Zealand.
“We are in dialogue with New Zealand, but remain focused on the US resettlement system at present,” they said.
Thanush said he has researched resettlement elsewhere, although the process takes years and there is no guarantee of success.
“I just want the minister to think of us as human beings, we are not going to live forever, we just want to live in peace and contribute to this country,” he told The Feed.
“I have endured eight years of suffering in prison, but this insecurity and living in limbo is just another form of suffering.”