‘I need my freedom’: Mohammed Al-Bdairi should be at the birth of his child – but he remains in detention

In the final days of last year, Mohammed Al-Bdairi won what he believed was a life-changing victory, one that would allow him to be home for the birth of his child.

On 27 December, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) ruled that the cancellation of Al-Bdairi’s bridging visa should be set aside, effectively restoring his right to live in the Australian community.

But more than two-and-a-half months since the tribunal’s decision, Mohammed Al-Bdairi remains in detention.

His child will be born within days.

Related: ‘Stop the boats’: Sunak’s anti-asylum slogan echoes Australia’s harsh policy

“I need my freedom,” Al-Bdairi told Guardian Australia from immigration detention. “That’s all I want. I need to be with my family, they need me to be with them.”

Al-Bdairi drove trucks for Nato forces across Iraq for nearly a decade from the time he was a teenager. He witnessed “violent deaths and the aftermath of bombings” in the course of his job, the AAT heard, and was shot in the ankle as violence steadily worsened across the country.

In 2013, he fled his homeland after a series of threats was made against him and his family by a fundamentalist Islamist group, angered by his cooperation with western powers. He and a brother fled through Iran to Indonesia, and ultimately, Australia, arriving by boat in late 2013, before they were removed to Manus Island.

Al-Bdairi’s brother returned to Iraq in 2014 after his son was killed by a car bomb. He was shot and wounded and fled to Turkey where he now lives. Another brother was also killed by a militia group in the same year.

Al-Bdairi was held in the Manus Island detention centre. The AAT heard “he was the victim of assaults by officers, along with his prolonged hunger strike where he lost 30kg of weight”.

“This was against a backdrop of witnessing suicides and self-harming incidents in the detention centre,” the tribunal heard.

Al-Bdairi was one of the first taken to the “Chauka” compound – the unofficial (it appeared on no maps of the centre) punishment cell, where refugees were held in isolation and allegedly repeatedly assaulted by guards.

“Me and my brother, they took us there, they broke my arm and I was concussed,” Al-Bdairi says. “That was a very bad place.”

Al-Bdairi’s claim for refugee protection was formally recognised in 2016. Australia recognised he had a “well-founded fear of being persecuted” in Iraq and he could not be returned there. Australia is legally obliged to protect him.

Al-Bdairi grew drastically unwell in detention, surviving for 10 months on fluid injections, sweet tea and salt after he became unable to eat food after a prolonged hunger strike in protest over an alleged lack of medical treatment after he was reportedly assaulted by guards.

When he was transferred from Manus to Australia for medical treatment, he was unable to walk unaided, and his weight had dropped from 74kg to 48kg.

Al-Bdairi recovered with medical attention and was granted a visa to live in the Australian community, where he worked as a tiler in Melbourne.

Related: Egyptian refugee faces indefinite detention after Asio said it has ‘classified information’ showing he is security risk

He commenced a relationship with a woman he had first met in detention, but when it ended in 2018, he made a series of repeated, unanswered phone calls to her. He was charged in 2019, and, in 2022, convicted of using a carriage service to harass. He was sentenced to a good behaviour bond on appeal.

However, Al-Bdairi’s visa was cancelled by the home affairs department in 2019 on the basis of the charges laid against him – before his case had gone before a court. Al-Bdairi has been detained ever since, now nearly four years.

The AAT decision stated that Al-Bdairi “now recognises what a huge mistake it was to act in the way that he did … Specifically, he recognised and accepted that his behaviour was harassing and would have caused [his former partner] distress and fear.”

In 2019, while still in the community in Melbourne, Al-Bdairi commenced another relationship, with an Iraqi woman living with her young children in Australia. They met when he helped her after her car had broken down. The couple would later marry while he was in detention and are expecting their first child this month.

His wife told the AAT that, with her husband in ongoing detention, “she feels very vulnerable, alone and displaced within the community.”

“Because she has no family or friends to support her, she is wholly dependent upon [Al-Bdairi] with every aspect of her life including house matters, banking, daily living issues, and her ongoing medication and appointments with medical practitioners. He organises all of this for her over the phone from detention.”

The December decision from the AAT noted Al-Bdairi faces significant mental health challenges, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and he has been diagnosed with the rare endocrine disorder Addison’s disease.

The tribunal said it weighed Al-Bdairi’s convictions against the imperative for him to be with his family.

“Considering the circumstances as a whole, the tribunal concludes that [Al-Bdairi’s] visa should not be cancelled,” it said.

Related: David Pocock says offshore asylum seekers ‘victims of our collective political failure’ as evacuation bill defeated

A spokesperson for the department of home affairs said it could not comment on individual cases, but that “the government is committed to humane and risk-based immigration detention policies”.

“The government is committed to ensuring that detention is used as a last resort and where possible, unlawful non-citizens are accommodated in the community or in less restrictive alternative places of detention, while their immigration status is being resolved”.

Each person held in immigration detention has their case reviewed every month, with a view to resolving their status, and considering whether detention is necessary and appropriate.

“The length and conditions of immigration detention… are subject to regular review by senior officers of the department of home affairs and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.”

The director principal of Human Rights 4 All who is acting pro bono for Al-Bdairi, Alison Battisson, said his ongoing, indefinite detention was punitive and unnecessary, and he could be granted a visa at ministerial discretion immediately.

“Mohammed is devastated,” she says. “He is giving up. He thought he was going home to his wife and stepchildren, and to be with his wife while she gave birth. Instead, he faces indefinite detention.”

Battisson said that she had been informed by the Department of Home Affairs that despite the AAT order to restore Al-Bdairi’s visa, “there is no visa to give back to him” because his visa had expired in the interim.

“Our client had been told by [border force] officers that his situation would be looked at as a matter of priority – that was on 28 December 2022,” she says. “To date, there has been nothing.”

Battisson said Al-Bdairi was engaged in the US resettlement process having undertaken interviews in 2019 and 2022 – and was doing “everything he can to comply with the Australian government policy”.

“The AAT has determined his visa cancellation should be revoked,” she says. “He is not a security risk to Australia. It is just a matter of time – but this should be done sooner rather than later, particularly considering his wife is due to give birth any day now.”

• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 988 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counselor. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org