Don Khan AuKmt said completing Mildura Weir parkrun was close to the top of his ‘to do’ list when he was released from eight years in immigration detention recently.
Don, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, came to Australia alone by boat at just 17 years of age in October 2013.
He was picked up and taken to Christmas Island, then to Australia’s offshore immigration detention centre on Manus Island, where he spent an unimaginable six years. He was granted refugee status by the United Nations Refugee Agency in 2016 and was transferred to Australia in 2019 under the now-repealed Medevac legislation. He was sent to Brisbane initially to an “Alternative Place of Detention” – a hotel which is utilised as an Immigration Detention Facility, then to Kangaroo Point, before being sent to Melbourne (initially the Mantra Hotel in Preston and then the Park Hotel in Swanston Street).
During Don’s time in Immigration Detention at the hotel, a COVID-19 outbreak infected half of the residents, which meant Don was confined to his room with no access to the dining hall, gym or any fresh air. Thankfully, Don did not contract the virus and after taking his case to the Federal Court, he was released on 13 November 2021.
Mildura, 550 kilometres from Melbourne in Victoria’s northwest, is a nominated destination for Humanitarian Settlement refugees. Mildura Weir parkrun regular Jane McCracken met Don, now 25, through a mutual refugee friend about 12 months prior to his release. In that time, Jane and her family have formed a warm friendship with Don, helping him with legal representation and giving him things to look forward to in Australia upon his release.
“We often spoke about what he would do when he got out and we talked about normal stuff. Normal stuff for us is doing parkrun on the weekend,” Jane said.
“So we sent him lots of photos of us volunteering and running at parkrun and we said you’ll have to come up and do it. And when he got out, he came up and did it.”
Don’s lockdown at the hotel made his parkrun feat all the more remarkable – It was a ‘freedom run’ in more than one way.
Don is now on a bridging visa for eight months and he will need to reapply when that time is up. Jane said this could go on for years before he’s given residency. Going back to Myanmar, where his family remains, is not an option.
Don is still settling into his new neighbourhood, and said he loved the warm, friendly and welcoming vibe at parkrun.
“He loved it. He loved how active and happy people were. He had a lovely morning,” Jane said.
Jane said everyone was amazed at the pace he set after eight years in detention and two of those in a hotel room. “When we set off, he sort of took off and said, ‘I’m going to run now’. And he was off. We think he got a bit competitive! He ran the whole way.”
Mildura Weir parkrun Event Director Trish Pongraz said the event team loved having Don there.
Trish posted the event report to Facebook and included a shout-out to Don. She said she was blown away by the response.
“People were amazed at his story, and many had not realised Don had been with us that day. It got such a warm response which was wonderful to see. The Mildura community is a refugee welcome area. We get a few people here who have fled persecution, so just to get that story really touched people. It made me feel proud of our community,” Trish said.
Jane said Don’s story showed people can overcome significant challenges in life but that he should have been treated with more humanity, compassion and kindness.
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