30 Dec 2015

Kiwi detainee: 'Freedom feels good'

12:50 pm on 30 December 2015

A New Zealander released from an Australian detention centre says the tide is beginning to turn towards freeing those who have committed less serious offences.

Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney

A police car approaches the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney. Photo: AAP / Dean Lewins

Quentin Hiko was recently released from the Villawood centre in Sydney, where he had spent four months.

He was jailed for a year for possession and supply of cannabis.

Two other men were also released in the week before Christmas, after they won appeals against their visa cancellation and deportation.

Mr Hiko says that was good news for families of those being detained under Australia's tough visa laws.

"They're sending the more serious people who are facing serious charges and stuff like that, and not the people with minimal charges, I think."

Mr Hiko said he would like to visit New Zealand but feared he would not be allowed back into Australia if he left.

He said it would not have been the end of the world if he had been sent back to New Zealand, as it was not a bad place, but he had spent most of his life in Australia and considered it home.

"I'm married to an Aboriginal woman and we have four children together, and I think that's why they let me go.

"It feels awesome [to be able to go home]. I've been a year and a half in detention, and freedom feels good. My family is happy to have me home, and I'm just catching up on everything, really."

Iwi n Aus, which advocates for those detained under Australia's policy to deport those jailed for more than 12 months, said one man was released from Christmas Island days before Christmas Day after a decision to reinstate his visa.

Iwi n Aus founder Erina Anderson said the two were released out of the blue and were not given reasons.

Those left on Christmas Island were allowed to attend a church service for the first time in six months, she said.

In general, detention centres were more tense at what she said was an emotional time for inmates.

"Guards have ramped up, the rooms were getting searched ... it made them feel a lot more sad, as they were struggling with the concept of not being with their families in the first place."

She said detainees told her Christmas had been a very depressing time for them.

A fence at a detention centre on Christmas Island

A fence at the detention centre on Christmas Island. Photo: AFP