The refugee who reluctantly agreed to be removed from Manus Island to rescue his wife and infant daughter from war in Syria has begged the Australian government to be included among the 12,000 Syrians it will accept for resettlement.Twenty-nine-year-old Eyad* nominated to be voluntarily returned to Syria from Manus last month so he could help his wife and meet his baby daughter, born while he was in detention.
Reunited with his family in his home city of al-Harra, Eyad says he has had to leave his bombed-out home – destroyed in fighting between the al-Assad regime and separatist fighters – and is now living in the abandoned home of a friend who has fled the country.
Through intermediaries he said: “I am so tired and the situation here getting more worse every day. Dead bodies everywhere. I really need help [because] I could not find anyone here to help me nor when I was on Manus. Even the International Organisation for Migration weren’t not able to send me back.
“But the Australian government wasn’t have any problem to send me back to this danger. My house has destroyed completely and I am living in my friend’s house [because] he’s out Syria now.
“If there is help for me and a way of getting us to Australia with the people they are taking [the 12,000 Australia has promised to resettle], I wish for that.”
A fellow refugee, still on Manus said: “Eyad couldn’t stay here more and his family in danger there. He told me I preferred to die with them, better than to stay in Manus. His daughter was born when he was in Manus and he never saw her, just on picture.”
Eyad fled Syria in 2013 after he was imprisoned by the al-Assad regime. He arrived on Christmas Island by boat on 8 August 2013 and was moved to Manus Island less than a month later, on 5 September.
In a letter he wrote in April 2014 he said he had fled his home promising to find a safe place for his family. “I want to tell you my story, about in Syria and about civil war and the crime of killing innocent people in Syria – I came out because of this. And I thought to find a peaceful place and I promised my wife to find a place to live peacefully.”
But after nearly two years in detention, and having been recognised as a refugee who faced “a well-founded fear of persecution” in his homeland, he grew increasingly concerned about the fate of his wife – from whom he had not heard – and their child and agreed to go home.
On 19 August this year he nominated to be voluntarily returned to Syria from Manus Island. His repatriation was controversial.
The immigration department has consistently gone to extensive lengths to persuade Syrian asylum seekers to return to the country, even as the conflict there worsened.
The International Organisation for Migration refuses to be involved in any removals to Syria, saying the risks to those returned are too high. The organisation has not taken part in the return of Syrians from other countries since 2012, according to its latest report, so the Australian immigration department stepped in to repatriate Eyad.
The return of asylum seekers to Syria – even on a voluntary basis – has also sparked concern because Australia’s immigration department will generally contact the Syrian embassy or consulate to arrange travel documents for them, alerting the government to their impending return.
Even as it flew Eyad back to Syria, the Australian government was warning that the situation in the country was deteriorating rapidly. Less than a fortnight after his return, the then prime minister, Tony Abbott, said the conflict in Iraq and Syria was “a very grave situation”.
“People in Syria are caught between the mass execution of the Daesh [Islamic State] death cult on the one hand and the chemical weapons of the Assad regime on the other,” he said. “It is important that there be a humanitarian response.”
On 9 September, Abbott announced Australia would resettle 12,000 refugees from Syria, in addition to its annual humanitarian program of 13,750.
Margaret Sinclair from the Refugee Action Collective said the government should never have sent Eyad back to danger, and should abandon its discriminatory approach of sending refugees who arrive by boat to offshore detention centres while accepting refugees from overseas.
“There is no difference between Eyad, the Syrians still imprisoned offshore, and the 12,000 that will be accepted permanently,” she said. “A genuinely humanitarian response would see Manus and Nauru shut and all, including Syrian refugees, brought to Australia for permanent resettlement.”
The Australian government has committed to settling 12,000 Syrian refugees, currently living in camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon.
Health and security checks have already begun on the first cohort of 200 refugees. The government hopes some can be resettled in Australia by Christmas. Women, children and people facing acute persecution will be Australia’s priority for resettlement.
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