Medevac refugees petition government to release detainees from hotels

Thanush Selvarasa and Ramsiyar Sabanayagam endured indefinite detention for seeking asylum to avoid war. They are hoping to start a new life in Australia. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Thanush Selvarasa and Ramsiyar Sabanayagam endured indefinite detention for seeking asylum to avoid war. They are hoping to start a new life in Australia. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Finally free after several years detained on Manus Island and then in Melbourne, Thanush Selvarasa and Ramsiyar Saban have called on the government to end the suffering of others detained in hotels in Australia.

Mr Selvarasa and Mr Sabanayasam were among the 60 refugees and asylum seekers the government unexpectedly released from hotel detention in late January.

The Sri Lankan nationals were transferred from Manus Island for mental health treatment under the now repealed Medevac legislation and then spent months inside the Mantra Hotel and Park Hotel in Melbourne while their future was decided.

With just 24 hours' notice, Mr Selvarasa and Mr Sabanayagam were among those selected to be released into the community on short-term bridging visas, while fellow detainees in similar situations were left inside the hotels.

Asked why the detainees had been released now, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton told media they were being released from the hotels because it was cheaper.

Mr Dutton's office did not respond to a question from The Canberra Times this week inquiring why the cost of the hotels was only taken into account last month, despite knowing ahead of their detention it would be more expensive than settling them in the community.

The two Tamal men were among those who presented a petition to Parliament last week calling for the release of all people transferred from offshore processing before World Refugee Day on June 20.

On Tuesday, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre revealed another 50 Medevac refugees had been released from hotel detention in Brisbane this week and four from a Darwin hotel, where some families had been for more than a year.

Advocacy director Jana Favero said the secretive and selective releases were exacerbating deteriorating mental health of people in detention.

"The Morrison government must release all refugees who were transferred for medical treatment urgently and find them a permanent home, so they can recover their health and start life again," Ms Favero said.

A spokesperson for Home Affairs said the government remained steadfast that persons under regional processing arrangements would not settle permanently in Australia.

"Transitory persons were brought to Australia temporarily to receive medical treatment," a spokesperson said.

"Their temporary stay in Australia is not a pathway to settlement. Transitory persons have third country migration options and 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."

Mr Selvarasa said he had escaped persecution in Sri Lanka only to face terrible conditions on Manus and isolation for more than a year inside Melbourne hotels.

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"They brought me for mental health care treatment but then I was locked up inside the hotel 24 hours a day with no fresh air or sunlight," he said.

Mr Selvarasa had moved in with housemates in Sydney and was now looking for work, while Mr Sabanayagam was still looking for accommodation last week.

As part of their release, the asylum seekers would receive working rights and Medicare.

The Home Affairs office did not respond to a questions regarding how it was determined which refugees would be released and when those still detained in hotels would be released.

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This story From Manus Island to Melbourne hotel, Medevac refugees petition for release of detainees first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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