‘Finally I can buy a candle’: 61-year-old refugee released after nine years in Australian detention

‘Finally I can buy a candle’: 61-year-old refugee released after nine years in Australian detention

A 61-year-old refugee who had been held for more than nine years in Australian immigration detention has finally been granted a three-year temporary protection visa.

Masoumeh Torkpour fled Iran in 2011 and has been in detention ever since. In 2018 she was granted refugee status and a refugee tribunal found that she should be issued a temporary protection visa because her mental health issues – including OCD, depression and adjustment disorder – were being exacerbated by conditions in detention.

However, she was denied a visa due to rigorous “character” tests. Torkpour was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment during her detention for spitting at and biting detention centre staff over disputes about food and access to a mobile phone.

She had been granted asylum in Canada in 1991 after fleeing Iran two years earlier, but was jailed for four years for stabbing a woman she found in bed with her husband. As a result she was barred from obtaining a permanent visa in Canada. She returned to Iran from Canada in 2005 to care for her dying father, but was then detained for having left Iran illegally.

The prison sentence in Canada also made her ineligible for a permanent visa in Australia on character grounds.

Torkpour was given accommodation in a Melbourne hotel after her release on 15 December, but has now been advised she must find a new home.

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said eligible individuals released from immigration detention could receive transitional support for up to six weeks.

Torkpour said she welcomed freedom after so many years, but was struggling to adjust after so many years of being moved from one form of detention to another.

She said it was “very stressful to be dumped into the community alone to fend for myself, while I have mobility problems and everything makes me extremely anxious”.

Torkpour said the first thing she bought after her release was a candle.

“Imprisonment banned me from lighting a candle for years. Finally, I can buy a candle to light on Christmas in honour of Mary, who was lonely too,” she said.

Jana Favero, of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said women on temporary visas faced innumerable challenges.

“They face barriers to work, find it almost impossible to access emergency housing and are ripe for exploitation.

“We are the only country in the world that only grants temporary protection to people found to be refugees. We are setting people up to fail and forcing them into poverty and destitution.”

Torkpour said she now hoped to be reunited with her son, Daniel, who lives in Canada.

“For years I was labelled as dangerous and rejected,” she said. “But my broken heart hopes that after 11 years, 2022 will bring my son Daniel back from Canada into my arms.”

Whatever the future holds, Torkpour cannot be sent back to Iran, as it rejects the involuntary return of its citizens who have sought asylum overseas.

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