Ramsiyar Sabanayagam has been missing spicy Tamil food for eight years since being detained by Australia. First on Christmas Island, then on Manus Island, before being medically evacuated to Melbourne.
On Thursday, he will be among two dozen people released from the Park Hotel in Carlton where he has been held for a month after being moved by Border Force from the Mantra hotel with 60 others.
Refugees on Wednesday leaving Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation after getting bridging visas. Credit:Eddie Jim
The Tamil refugee, 29, said receiving the six-month bridging visa was "like flying" and plans to spend his first few days of freedom saying thank you to those who have helped him.
"First of all, I want to say thank you for everyone, because lots of supporters day by night they are supporting us … 'Thank you' is not enough. But really, I can't explain the feeling," Mr Sabanayagam said on the morning of his release.
Tamil refugee Ramsiyar Sabanayagam, 29, is expected to be released from the Park Hotel in Carlton on Thursday.Credit:Ramsiyar Sabanayagam
About 45 refugees were suddenly handed six-month bridging visas on Wednesday and released from the Park Hotel and the Melbourne Immigration and Transit Accomodation (MITA) centre in Broadmeadows, with work rights and Medicare.
Another two dozen men were being released from the hotel on Thursday.
They waved at their cheering supporters as they were escorted onto buses about 11.30am live footage showed. They were taken to MITA for processing ahead of their release later in the day.
Dozens of police circled the hotel when advocates arrived to witness the men leave on the buses on Thursday morning.
A six-month bridging visa is not a permanent solution, Mr Sabanayagam acknowledges, but after eight years in detention it is "better than nothing".
"One year and one month we don't have sunlight and fresh air [while detained at Mantra hotel]."
Mr Sabanayagam said everyone at the Park Hotel had a "big smile" and couldn't sleep on Wednesday night.
Has he thought about what he will eat when he can finally choose for himself?
"Yes, I need spicy food. The taste of the tongue is truly gone."
The men have been told they will be given two weeks' accommodation in the community.
Fourteen people are expected to remain in detention at the Park Hotel after Thursday, according to documentation seen by The Age.
A Bangladeshi refugee signals ‘joy’ to protestors outside a Carlton hotel.Credit:Chris Hopkins
Human Rights for All lawyer Alison Battisson, who represents some of the men, said there would be an adjustment period for them.
"Many of the men were brought here for mental health reasons and that hasn't been addressed," Ms Battisson said on Thursday morning.
"Now they're being released into the community after almost a decade and it's going to be full on."
Ms Battisson said everyone brought to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru under the now-repealed medevac legislation for treatment should be released into the community.
She said that the federal government was adding to anxiety for the detainees who were medically evacuated from Manus Island and Nauru without providing a clear, long-term plan.
On Wednesday, a Border Force said in a statement that none of the refugees would ever permanently settle in Australia.
"They 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," the statement reads.
"A final departure bridging visa allows individuals to temporarily reside in the Australian community while they finalise their arrangements to leave Australia."
The men suffer from a range of health conditions, most commonly depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Their advocates say many of the men have never properly received treatment.
Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective was hopeful that the remaining medevac detainees in Melbourne and Brisbane would eventually be released.
"We still have a way to go, but it's a historic day," Mr Breen said from the Park Hotel.
In a statement, he said it should not have taken eight years for their release: "The government has not given a reason for their release. It is not clear if the release is because many had cases before the Federal Circuit Court, or the government has finally cracked under the pressure of a long campaign for freedom, by the refugees themselves in detention, and a large movement of supporters outside."
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