“I DON’T have any hope, because I’ve lost it all. Now I am just one body here, not a soul, because I’m too tired, mentally sick,” says a 39-year-old man in a Brisbane hotel room pleading for freedom.
Raj is a Tamil refugee, a businessman from Sri Lanka who Australia has held in immigration detention for seven years.
As a political refugee he is afraid to give his full name, and he doesn’t want his parents back home to know what he is going through.
That’s why he avoids being photographed by news outlets or for social media.
“No, no, no … because I’m too scared for my parents; they don’t want to get any suffering in the future,” he said.
“I’m just too scared because I’m homesick, my parents still love me.
“I just pretend to them that I’m happy here … They don’t want to know their son is still suffering … because I suffered for more than three or four years in Sri Lanka during (and after) the civil war.”
Raj is among more than 120 refugees detained at the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel.
One of almost 200 men transferred from Papua New Guinea for medical treatment under the now-repealed medevac legislation, he has been there for nine months.
“Physically I had lots of problems with my stomach and mentally I was also sick, so I’m a Category 1 (patient) and that means it’s a serious physical sickness and I was transferred here for treatment,” he said, speaking by phone from his room at the detention centre.
“Because my condition is serious I received treatment immediately at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, and they did all the tests like colonoscopy, endoscopy, CT scans – lots of checks, and they found my real problems and they treated me.”
But his deterioration continues the longer he is detained.
“If you’re kept in one place … this is not freedom …,” he said.
“Mentally I’m getting sick every day, because I can’t sleep very well here … and I’m afraid again I will get the same (health) problems like I had before.
“Every day I am losing my hope, and mentally and physically I’m getting sick again.
“I’m mentally sick because I don’t want to lose my life here …
“I’m just worrying about my future. Seven years is too long – (I have) no hopes still …”
Raj said he had refugee status and he had “done nothing wrong”.
“What’s (the Federal Government’s) plan for my future?” he said.
“I am a human, I have a sense, I want to live peacefully in the community.
“I wish to see my parents, I wish to see my siblings.”
Raj said they were still in Sri Lanka but if he was able to one day resettle somewhere “I can travel to India or somewhere and ask them to come and see me”.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge, being interviewed recently on ABC TV’s The Insiders about the future of nearly 200 refugees detained in hotels in Brisbane and Melbourne, said they had options to either return to Nauru or to Papua New Guinea.
“For some, they’ll have an option to go to the United States … For those who have been found not to be refugees, of course, they’ve got the option to return to their home country,” Mr Tudge said.
“We’ll keep them in the hotels in detention until they exercise one of those options, and that’s what we want them to do.”
Refugee advocate Rebecca Lim, who has been supporting Raj, said returning to his homeland was not an option.
“He’s a refugee so that discussion it’s a moot point really,” she said.
“He’s got refugee status anyway so he should not be forced to return.
“That’s really not an option, despite what Minister Alan Tudge keeps saying, that people have a choice to go back.
“They’ve got refugee status so they really should not even be put in a position to consider that.
“And, yes, it is unsafe for (Raj) to return because he’s a political refugee.”
Raj’s application for sponsorship for resettlement in Canada has been approved but there was no telling how long it would take for a visa application to be processed.
“It’s already been one year, and then unfortunately COVID has come about so who knows …,” Ms Lim said.
She said the refugees at Kangaroo Point and in Melbourne were in limbo and they continued to be locked up.
“The Minister’s saying now the other option (for them) is to go back to their home country, go back off-shore or go find a third country,” she said.
“Well, that’s not a plan so what is the Government’s plan?
“Indefinite detention is not a plan.
“Who is the minister who’s going to take responsibility if there’s a custodial death of a man who never recovers?
“The Government says the United States is an option so, for those who’ve been denied (settlement) in the US, is it not the Government’s responsibility to find another option?
“Canada is not the Government’s plan; Canada is a community initiative so the Government actually has no plan.
“(The refugees) can’t stay off-shore; they can’t stay in Nauru and PNG; they can’t go home.”
Meanwhile, Raj said the past seven years had “destroyed my life”.
“I’m mentally sick because I don’t want to lose my life here,” he said.
Supporters on the outside help to encourage him to hope.
“Day by day, some people on the outside they give some hope, … like some friends on the outside they call me and look after me,” Raj said.
“They say, ‘Don’t give up, don’t give up …’
“That’s why I’m living now – why I don’t lose my life already, because they are still hoping you have some future in another country, and you will have freedom in another country.
“Like, every day they are hoping. That’s why I am living. If not, I already lose my life in PNG.
“… Please don’t take too much time to keep us in detention, don’t play with our lives.”