Twenty-six asylum seekers held in a hotel in Melbourne’s inner-north have reportedly been told they are being released into the community on bridging visas.
The men, who had been brought to Australia under medevac legislation from detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, have been detained in hotels for more than a year.
The men were transferred from the Park Hotel in Carlton on buses to the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre (MITA) on Wednesday morning to be processed and released, advocates say.
Footage taken outside MITA on Wednesday afternoon shows two minibuses and a taxi leaving the facility as refugee advocates cheer and wave the vehicles off.
The bridging visas mean the men can live in the community until final decisions on their claims for asylum are made.
“This is a victory first and foremost for the men inside, who’ve put up with terrible conditions for years but never gave up their struggle for freedom,” Nahui Jimenez, protest coordinator for advocacy group Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, told SBS News.
“As well, it’s a victory for the refugee movement, who have been united in hitting the streets day after day, month after month.”
News of the apparent impending releases spread after a Kurdish asylum seeker held at the hotel, Mostafa Azimitabar, sent a tweet about it late on Wednesday morning.
The Park Hotel has been the site of daily protests and vigils against the detention of the men.
“We will continue to protest until every single refugee in that building is set free” Ms Jimenez said.
“As well, each of them should be given permanent citizenship immediately, not just the bridging visas they’ve been offered so far.”
Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said he understood a total of 45 people were being released in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“While it is very good news that the government has begun the release of refugees brought from Manus and Nauru for medical treatment, they should never have been held in detention in Australia. They should all be released immediately,” he said in a statement.
Mr Rintoul said those being released had only been provided with three weeks of accommodation.
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs would not confirm the exact number of men receiving bridging visas, but said nobody “who attempts illegal maritime travel” into Australia would be settled permanently in the country.
“The individuals residing in the alternative places of detention were brought to Australia temporarily for medical treatment. 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 spokesperson said.
“A final departure bridging visa allows individuals to temporarily reside in the Australian community while they finalise their arrangements to leave Australia”.