I am delighted to tell you that yesterday I was able to meet the young New Zealander, H, who had been held in adult immigration detention in Melbourne; the boy I have been writing about and talking to as often as I could for the last month.
I was able to meet him in person because he was released, granted a visa, and has now returned to NSW to live with his family.
When H was told he would be released, he called and asked me to come and get him. Suffice to say that I drove immediately to the detention centre in Broadmeadows.
It’s always peculiar meeting someone you have spent a long time on the phone with because they are very familiar and yet not. H walked into the reception area, and we saw each other and laughed and hugged.
“It’s good to meet you,” he said.
“I know, right?” I replied.
It is not exactly what I meant but I was quite surprised by how fast everything was happening.
We were surrounded by Border Force staff and Serco guards who had to do the admin that is involved with a detainee release. H wanted to leave with me immediately but there was some issues because we needed written permission from his guardian and they were at work and unable to send an email. Because it was getting close to the time when H needed to leave for his flight, I suggested he go with the guards in the van that had been organised to take him and I would drive behind.
As we left, a guard who didn’t know he was going to be released saw him and walked over. They hugged and the guard said, “Oh, you’re going? That is so good.”
H has been held in this facility since March and has really struggled over the last month. We have had many in-depth, very personal conversations and I have publicly voiced my concern for his mental health. It was strange to drive behind a van that H was in, knowing that he was in his own clothes, not handcuffed, and very close to seeing his family. Knowing he could now get on with his young life was a tremendous and rare relief.
At the airport we had a quick goodbye. I had gotten him some headphones but then didn’t put them in my bag when I ran out the door to go to the detention centre. As he walked away I thought, “Oh no, I should have given him some cash for lunch,” as if he was one of my kids going on a school trip.
When I got back in my car and texted my editors I said, “It was completely surreal and yet utterly normal. He is just a kid.” And now he is a kid not locked in an adult detention centre.