Australia

'How can I?': Nauru refugee says he was told to give up daughter for resettlement

An Iranian refugee on Nauru says he was asked to give up custody of his baby daughter (pictured) in order to have a chance at resettlement in the United States.
An Iranian refugee on Nauru says he was asked to give up custody of his baby daughter (pictured) in order to have a chance at resettlement in the United States. Source: Supplied

An Iranian refugee who is on Nauru says he has been asked to make an impossible decision - to relinquish custody of his child for a chance to resettle in the US. The Department of Immigration has rejected the accusations.

Arash Shirmohamadi said he was faced with an impossible decision - give up custody of his baby daughter in order to have a chance at a new life in the United States. 

Baby Yusra was born nine months ago in Australia after Mr Shirmohamadi's wife was transferred from Nauru for medical reasons. 

But Mr Shirmohamadi was not allowed to join them and has remained on Nauru since his wife left. 

The refugee has a chance to be resettled in the US, however, in order to do so he said he was asked to relinquish custody of his daughter - a claim the immigration department has strongly denied. 

"No family units in Nauru have ever been forcibly separated by the Department or the Australian Border Force (ABF). Claims it is 'unofficial policy to use family separation as a coercive measure' are also false," the department wrote in a statement. 

Previously Mr Shirmohamadi told SBS News he had refused to sign a document which asked him to release custody of his daughter. 

"How can I leave them?" he told SBS News.

"They are my blood – they are my life."

As his family is not in Nauru, he said he was asked to separate his case from his wife and child, and be processed for resettlement separately. 

However the department says ABF officers met with Mr Shirmohamadi on a number of occasions, at his request, to discuss his situation in Nauru, and support for his wife and child.

"During these conversations, Mr Shirmohamadi asked a number of questions relating to the US resettlement process including if he could be considered separately to his wife and child," the department said. 

"ABF officers did not inform Mr Shirmohamadi that he was required to relinquish custody of his child. A copy of the release of custody form, published in the media, was sent to Mr Shirmohamadi only after he requested it.

"It was clearly stated to Mr Shirmohamadi, on three occasions, that how he and his wife wished to be considered for the US resettlement was a matter for them."

Mr Shirmohamadi said there was no guarantee he would be offered a place under the US resettlement deal – especially given the US's stance on Iranian immigration.

He said he did not want to bring his wife back to Nauru as he feared for her safety. 

Mr Shirmohamadi alleged his wife had been physically abused and sexually harassed when she was living on Nauru with him.

The department said Mr Shirmohamadi's wife has lodged legal claims which prevented her return to Nauru.

"It has been repeatedly stated publicly that individuals who have transferred to Australia temporarily, including for medical treatment, are expected to return to Nauru when they no longer have a reason to be in Australia," the department said. 

"People in this group are eligible to express an interest in being considered for the US resettlement arrangement. If they wish to be considered for resettlement as a family unit, they must be with their families in Nauru."

Mr Shirmohamadi said another Iranian refugee whose pregnant wife has also been transferred to Australia for medical reasons has also been asked to separate his case from his wife.

"They told them the same thing, you have to separate your case or return back to your family (on Nauru)," he claimed.

Mr Shirmohamadi said he knew of at least 10 other such cases in which men are separated from their partners in Australia for medical care.

"There are no options for me ... just remain on Nauru and be a single man," he said.

The department said no refugees would be forced to resettle in the US and the process was voluntary.

"This is another example of attempts to misrepresent the situation in PNG and Nauru," the department said of Mr Shirmohamadi's said.