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Another refugee's heart broken while hope lays on immigration's desk

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

Mehreen and Eshel live in community detention waiting to be reunited as a family.

A signature is all that stands between Mehreen being reunited with her husband. She's been separated from him since she was five months pregnant.

Transferred to Australia in November 2017, Mehreen gave birth to the couple's first child, alone, without her husband by her side and without any familiar faces to support her into motherhood.

Her husband, Haider, was brought to Australia a few months later. Still, instead of sharing loving cuddles with his wife and newborn daughter Eshel, he was locked up in Adelaide Immigration Transit Accommodation (AITA).

"I wait, and I wait for news to end this living hell," says Mehreen.

"It's been six months since I've heard anything from my lawyer. Last I heard, our application was waiting for a signature from Peter Dutton."

Mehreen and Eshel speak to Haider often. Before the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020, they would look forward to visiting Haider once a week. It was as close to family time as they could spend together.

South Australia's heavy restrictions has meant that for most of 2020 the family haven't been able to see one another. Only recently they have resumed visits, but this time it's behind a glass screen. No physical contact and no edible gifts makes the visits even harder this time around.

"Eshel says she loves her daddy, and they laugh about all kinds of things over the phone, but sometimes she doesn't want to see him," says Mehreen.

"She gets furious and then sad. I can't imagine what it's like for her. She's missed a lot of those early years experiences with her dad that she should have been able to experience."

Living life as a single mother in a foreign country, trying to work with several lawyers and caseworkers between moving to a new house, and psychology and psychiatric appointments could all have been avoided if they were together.

"I don't need a psychologist and psychiatrist. I need my husband," says Mehreen.

"I do everything myself. It's just Eshel and me. We don't know anyone in Adelaide.

"Because we live in community detention, we're not allowed to go interstate and that's where we have some friends.

"I don't see the point in going on short trips outside of Adelaide because it's just Eshel and me. We don't have anyone to enjoy the trip with."

Mehreen holds a Masters of International Relations, is a strong women's rights advocate and has always enjoyed worked with people.

"I use to work for non-government organisations as a Women's Empowerment Officer in my country. I trained women to use their skills to make an income, but then the threats got real; I escaped death a few times and had no choice but to leave," says Mehreen.

"I was in detention in Naru for one year before I got my refugee status and was allowed to live outside the compound.

The income support was $200 a fortnight. Groceries were costly, so we had to work. Although wages were only $4-6 per hour, it helped us fulfil our daily requirements like fresh food and medicine.

"I worked with Connect Settlement Services as a Recreational Officer and then as a Community Engagement Officer with Broad Spectrum and Canstruct Group. My husband worked as a receptionist at Meneng Hotel.

"Every day was challenging. I didn't see any hope for freedom, so we just tried to keep ourselves busy with work."

Mehreen would like to work, but living in community detention doesn't allow it, and even if she could it would need to be from home because she's not entitled to subsidised child care.

"I can't work, I can't study, I can't travel, and on top of that, I can't even get a reassuring hug from my husband," says Mehreen.

"When I see other families together, I feel so hopeless. I feel like I'm the only one living this way.

"When I get sick, I have to continue looking after my child, and there's no one to look after me. I have no support. I really need my husband's support, his love and his reassurance.

Every time Haider's case manager makes a lame excuse about his application being on the minsters table, I don't know why Dutton can't just sign it. It's insane. It's against our human rights to be treated this way.

"I just want my husband to be reunited with us so that we can get on with living a better life together as a family. A signature is really not that hard to give."

Haider and 11 other men are being held in Adelaide Immigration Transit Accommodation. The men can't see out of the centre, but they can hear the people of Adelaide supporting them by holding weekly protests out front of the centre.

If you live in Adelaide, please make your support known to the men inside. Alternatively, keep up-to-date via our facebook page and send the men a message in the comments. Every voice they hear makes those high fences surrounding them feel less like a cage and more like a gateway to hope and freedom.

Weekly protests are held every Friday at 6pm, 55/65 Garland Ave, Kilburn South Australia.

Adelaide supporters shout encouraging messages to the men locked up in AITA cage.

For further information please contact

Written with Mehreen by Rachael Hakim

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