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After eight years in immigration detention, I cannot believe I am free in Australia

Mardin Arvin
·4-min read

The wind blows. Languid. The wind is calm, swirling around my body. It feels good.

I watch the leaves shifting places across the ground, I reflect on the fact that no one is standing over me any more, no one is watching me.

Sometimes I cannot believe it. Every few steps forward I look behind me. I expect to see a guard frowning back at me, or staring at me with a patronising smile. I expect to see a guard looking at me, with that look, that look saying to me that without them I cannot do a single thing.

I was released from hotel detention recently: on 21 January I left the Park Hotel Melbourne a free man. I was an imprisoned refugee. I am not happy. But I think to myself maybe it is because after these last few weeks I still cannot believe it – I cannot believe that I can live like a regular human being. A human being who is no longer captive between the four walls of a single room.

I was also held for a long time in the Manus prison camp, a site where I suffered extreme humiliation, a site where I witnessed my friends self-harming, attempting suicide, a site where my friends were killed.

A small boy and his mother pass by me. A smile emerges on my face. The days of hardship are over, I can now call to speak to my mother whenever I want, I can now ask how she is whenever I want.

Poor thing, my mother has been waiting for this moment for eight years. My mother was tortured just like me, I am certain even more than me. This reflects the sacrifices made by mothers, it reflects their selflessness.

Very soon after my release I want to make my mother happy by giving her news of my freedom – I say to myself: “now is the right time”. I take my mobile out of my pocket and make a video call. She answers immediately. She was waiting for me.

“Hi mum.”

“Hi my son, are you well?”

She is always waiting in anticipation. I always noticed the tears in her eyes. I ask how she is. Like always, she says she is fine. In all this time she has never given me any bad news. She never wanted to upset me. I can tell she is worried. But this time I smile and spin the phone around so she can see the surroundings. The tall trees. The blue sky. The open spaces. It is as if my mother has been freed from prison because she smiles and looks back at me in excitement and joy.

“Son, where are you?”

“Mum, I have a surprise for you. Mum, I’m free. Right now I’m walking the streets and I’m alone.”

I cannot see my mother’s face. I realise that she has dropped her mobile. I can hear the sound of her crying. I am also crying.

Related: This is my eighth Christmas locked up in immigration detention. Next year I hope to celebrate as a free man | Mardin Arvin

I had made plans for what I was going to do once I got out, where I would go, what I would buy. But now my mind is blank. Completely blank.

I am no longer a 23-year-old young man. I have spent the best years of my life in a situation where a good night sleep was an unachievable hope. I dreamed of being able to go for a simple walk. Now after eight years being released has lost its meaning. I feel that I have aged prematurely. I am both a young man and an old man.

• Mardin Arvin is a Kurdish Iranian writer and translator who was imprisoned by the Australian government from 2013-2021: Manus Island (2013-19), Port Moresby (2019), and Melbourne (2019-2021). Since January 2021 he has been living in Melbourne on a temporary bridging visa – his future remains uncertain. He works in four languages: Kurdish, Farsi, English and Tok Pisin; and he has continued to conduct research, translate and write his book, all of which he began during his incarceration. His writing has been published in the Guardian, Meanjin, Overland, Critical Legal Thinking and Southerly

• Translated by Omid Tofighian, who is a lecturer, researcher and community advocate. He is affiliated with Birkbeck, University of London, UNSW and University of Sydney. His publications include Myth and Philosophy in Platonic Dialogues (Palgrave 2016) and the translation of Behrouz Boochani’s multi-award winning book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (Picador 2018). He is co-editor of special issues for journals Literature and Aesthetics (2011), Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media (2019) and Southerly (2021)