Back in 2004, I interviewed a stateless refugee housed on Manus Island by the former Australian government. Aladdin Sisalem was a kind, quietly-spoken man who simply craved a better life for himself, but John Howard’s system wanted him to suffer for this desire.
I met with Aladdin a few times in Melbourne after his release. He seemed to be struggling with his new life, unsure what he would do and without a clear directive from the government on his legal status.
But now life has apparently turned the corner:
Coming to Australia after 18 months held in the Manus Island detention centre — 10 of them by himself — Aladdin Sisalem felt he had finally found a new beginning.
Instead, the stateless Kuwaiti-born Palestinian found that he had merely exchanged one form of living in limbo for another. He was placed on a temporary protection visa that banned him from applying for permanent protection for five years.
He has spent the past four years not knowing if he would have to uproot himself and try all over again to find another country to take him at the end of next year.
It is only now, after a change of government, that a relieved Mr Sisalem has been told his wait has been cut short by a year. He can apply immediately for permanent residency in Australia.
For the first time since he fled persecution after a backlash against Palestinians in Kuwait on November 15, 2000, the United Nations-certified refugee may have somewhere to call home.
“They called me last week as promised and told me the office of the Minister of Immigration has agreed to specify a shorter period to process your application,” he said.
The wait to apply for permanency, and its accompanying right to visit overseas, has come at a heavy personal cost for him.
The recklessness and cruelty of the Howard government towards asylum seekers will shame Australia for years to come.