For years, the Australian government had vowed never to allow asylum seekers like Bandesh, who had been processed on offshore immigration centers in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific nation of Nauru, to settle on its soil.
Now, suddenly Bandesh, and six others, were free in Australia.
"I was just shocked, I didn't know what to do," said Bandesh, a Kurdish refugee who fled Iran seeking safety Australia. "There is no more headcount, there is no high security, there is no fences. Wow."
Their release has given hope to other detainees.
"I am very happy for him," said Bandesh's friend and onetime roommate Mostafa Azimitabar, who remains detained in a Melbourne hotel with around 60 other men brought to Australia from PNG and Nauru for urgent medical treatment. "His happiness helps me not to give up."
Australia's Home Affairs department has declined to comment on the freed men, but their lawyers say they all had upcoming court hearings when they would argue they were being unlawfully detained.
Their release follows a landmark federal court ruling in September
that ordered a man be freed under habeas corpus, a centuries-old legal principle that protects detainees from unlawful imprisonment. It's the first time it has been used in modern Australian legal history.
As the government prepares an urgent appeal against that September ruling in the High Court, human rights lawyers say they've been bombarded with requests from detainees to file similar cases.
A sea journey to prison
Bandesh entered Australian waters after July 19, 2013,
when Canberra announced that no asylum seekers who arrived by boat would ever be settled in Australia. Successive Australian governments have defended that policy, saying it has deterred both asylum seekers and traffickers who profit from their misery, saving lives at sea.
But Bandesh said he didn't know about the policy when he came ashore on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island. "When I reached Christmas Island I thought, This is the freedom, the nightmare's over, I am a free man now," he said.
Instead he was assigned a number and crammed into a compound
on a remote island, thousands of miles from Australia.
Life inside the guarded Manus Island
camp could be violent, when tensions erupted into riots.
Bandesh was granted refugee status but told he could only
live in PNG or Nauru,
another island nation that agreed to detain Australia's asylum seekers, or any other country willing to take him.
Others applied for a visa to live in the US, where 870 men
have been resettled as of October under a deal struck between the countries' former leaders, according to Australian government figures. Some went home, either voluntarily or by force, and almost 300 remain on PNG and Nauru, of whom at least