After eight years in immigration detention, Afghan asylum seeker Ahmad Zahir Azizi said he still can’t believe that he is no longer a detainee.
"I am free. [After] more than eight years I was in detention, today I am free. I am very happy.”
He is one of four men detained across Melbourne's Park Hotel and MITA who have been granted a bridging visa allowing them to live in the community, but with little economic support.
After so many years in detention, he said he had thought "my whole life I was going to stay in detention".
“When the [Australian Border Force] told me I had good news, I asked them ‘what good news?’ They told me I have visa. I said I can’t believe it because long time I’ve been in detention.
“I went to the mosque and see the exit. I can’t believe it really, I say I am free."
Ahmad Zahir Azizi (left) thought he would spend his entire life in detention. Source: Supplied
On Saturday, three medevac asylum seekers, including 36-year-old Mr Azizi, were released from Melbourne’s Park Hotel, and one asylum seeker was released from MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows.
After over five years in Nauru and three years in MITA, Iranian asylum seeker Hamed Khademi says the release is bittersweet as his heart remains with detainees that are still locked up.
“I can’t explain how I feel. After nine years they’ve released me but I still have friends in detention,” the 27-year-old said.
“I’ve got a visa but they don’t and we’re like a family, living together for nine years … you have to keep fighting for the others.”
Iranian refugee Hamed Khademi, 27, says he will continue fighting for detainees still locked up. Source: Supplied
Their release comes after mounting pressure placed on the government to release detainees after a COVID-19 outbreak spread at Park Hotel.
The Refugee Action Collective (RAC) says the release of the four asylum seekers is welcome news, but there are more asylum seekers and refugees that need to be freed.
“Today’s releases come after months of protracted legal cases, the outcry over COVID-19 in the Park Hotel, and the refugee movement's long commitment to public protest,” RAC activist Chris Breen said.
The four asylum seekers have been granted bridging visas that are valid for six months. Mr Breen says it is common for these visas to be renewed continuously, but support from the government gets cut.
“Hamed, Azizi and the other men have been told they have just three weeks accommodation and then they are on their own,” Mr Breen said.
“They have no money and have just been given $100 Woolworths vouchers with no explanation of how or where to use them. They have no transport, or Myki [public transport] cards, and their nearest Woolworths is over an hour away by foot.
“Like other released refugees they are effectively being resettled here, but being dumped in the community with no support.”
The concerns were recently put in the spotlight after reports of a , following his release from the Park Hotel several months ago.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said 85 refugees and asylum seekers remain in onshore immigration detention facilities.
The group says since December 2020, nearly 180 detainees have been released into the community on bridging visas.
The federal government has remained firm in its insistence that refugees and asylum seekers on bridging visas will not be given a pathway to permanent residency.