This Man Lives Less Than An Hour From His Wife - But They've Been Separated For Three Years
Saif Ali Saif has been separated from his son and wife for three years, despite them living less than an hour away.
Three years ago, the Australian Border Force asked Saif, a refugee who fled from Yemen, to sign permission for his five-month-old son to be transferred from Nauru to Australia for urgent medical treatment.
But it came with a heartbreaking condition ---Saif's wife and son would travel to Australia without him.
"They said if I wanted my son to get medical care, I should sign to let him go without me," Saif told 10 daily.
"Putting that condition, to lose my family, was the hardest thing on my heart and ever since I suffered that pain," he added.
Last June, Saif says he was told he'd be transferred to Australia to rejoin his family after spending six years on Nauru.
But rather than being reunited with his family in Brisbane, Saif was locked up at a hotel in Kangaroo Point where he's been for almost a year.
When they tell me 'you have to go to your family', I was happy, very happy like I'm crazy. I couldn't believe it. But when I got here they broke my heart.
While Saif is in indefinite detention, his family live in the nearby town of Logan.
Saif and his wife, who requested not to be named, are from Somalia and met in Nauru where their son was born.
The couple had both fled from bloody civil wars and were placed into detention after attempting to seek asylum in Australia by boat.
Saif escaped the devastating humanitarian crisis in Yemen, while his wife fled Somalia's ongoing civil war.
The journey to Australia was extremely dangerous but Saif said after fearing for his life in Yemen, he had nothing to lose.
"It was a scary journey and very dangerous. I went to Malaysia first and then to Indonesia," Saif said.
"It was seven days by boat in the big sea from Indonesia to Australia," he added.
"We crossed the sea to live or die, it was like that."
During the pandemic, visitors to Kangaroo Point have been limited. Saif says it's been three months since he last saw his family.
Saif claims he was the last father to leave Nauru under the Medevac provisions and is the only father who is yet to be reunited with his family.
"I miss them very much. I don't understand why I cannot live with them when they're out in the community," he said.
Fearful of being infected with coronavirus from the hotel guards or other refugees, Saif spends almost 24 hours a day in his room which he shares with one other person.
Three years on, Saif claims his son, who suffers from asthma, has still not received medical treatment and that his wife is also sick.
"My son doesn't speak to anyone, he doesn't eat. He doesn't know me as his father when he comes and I play with him," Saif told 10 daily.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, 1,436 people were in detention on mainland Australia at the end of February.
About 120 men are being held at the Kangaroo Point hotel in Brisbane and 65 refugees from Manus Island are in detention at a hotel in Melbourne.
Other refugees are in detention facilities in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
Last week, a 32-year-old Tamil refugee was found unconscious at the Mantra hotel in Preston, Melbourne after attempting suicide.
Kon Karapanagiotidis, CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre told 10 daily the years of ongoing detention had taken an extraordinary psychological toll on the men.
He added the pandemic has exacerbated the already desperate situation for asylum seekers onshore.
"You take people that were already deeply traumatised and destitute and those vulnerabilities suddenly become life-threatening during a pandemic," Karapanagiotidis said.
"This was a community that was already in crisis and is living well below the poverty line," he continued.
This week, a refugee visited the ASRC and told Karapanagiotidis he hadn't eaten for three days.
Karapanagiotidis claims the man was so weak, he requested to eat at the centre as he was unable to carry the food supplies home.
"94 percent of people presenting at our food bank last week were people without an income. Many of those people are also excluded from Medicare," Karapanagiotidis said.
Meanwhile, refugees at the hotels have complained of being unable to adequately socially distance and fear a coronavirus outbreak, which would be disastrous for the immunosuppressed men.
"The hotels are prisons where men are locked up 24 hours a day, where they don't have access to necessary hygiene. Even things like access to soap have been hit-and-miss in those facilities," Karapanagiotidis said.
The Federal Government has proposed laws which would give the Immigration Minister the power to ban mobile phones, computers and other items from detention centres.
Similar laws were overturned by the Federal Court in 2018.
Karapanagiotidis claims the government is attempting to silence the men and taking phones from them would have a catastrophic impact on their mental health.
"The reason the government is trying to do that is it needs to distract us from the fact it has completely abandoned its duty of care to people in detention centres who cannot safely socially distance, who are isolated more than ever before," he said.
"They've already got extraordinary powers when it comes to these men. They control their movement, who can visit them, they can control how long they have to spend in their rooms."
If the men can't tweet or write about what's being done to them, then guess what? We stop hearing and seeing these men.
Saif said he's been imprisoned so long by the Australian government that he no longer has hope for resettling inside the country.
Instead, he and his family now dream of resettling in the United States like some other refugees from Nauru have done.
As of March 2, more than 702 refugees have departed for the US, according to the University of NSW's Kaldor Centre.
"Almost seven years and I don't have any hope inside Australia. I am separated from my wife, I can't hug my son," Saif said.
"I don't want to remember my life in Australia. I want to take my family to America and have a new life."
10 daily has contacted The Department of Home Affairs for comment.
Contact Eden on Twitter @edengillespie