Atiu-born Edward McHugh has won a court victory in his battle against being thrown out of Australia.
His deportation is now on hold after the Federal Court in Australia ordered Australia’s immigration minister to reassess his visa application.
Australia’s aggressive deportation policy has been internationally-contentious: people with no family connections in New Zealand, Cook Islands, Samoa or Tonga have been deported – some without even having committed any crime.
“Now that I'm free, my next biggest step is coming home to West Australia to see my family,” he told Cook Islands News.
McHugh has grandchildren who were born while he has been in detention. “But I won't be able to see the family just yet because of the border closure due to Covid-19.”
McHugh has lived in Australia for more than 40 years. The 52-year-old father-of-seven did not discover he was adopted from Cook Islands until he was aged 45.
He had always believed he was an Australian citizen. “I am who I said I am,” he said, speaking from a Melbourne detention camp.
“Imagine, you know who you are, and someone else telling you that you are not that person. It is very stressful.”
McHugh was too young to remember much of the islands but recalled feeling unwanted by his Cook Islands mother. He was adopted by an Australian couple, when he was just six years old, and grew up in Toowoomba, Queensland.
He believed he was an Australian citizen through adoption, after successfully applying for an Australian passport.
But in 2018 he was sentenced to nine months in prison for aggravated assault and threatening to kill a person – and at that point he discovered he would be deported to New Zealand or Cook Islands.
Justice Stewart Anderson has now ordered acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge to reconsider Edward McHugh's application for his visa to be reinstated, on the basis he believed he was an Australian citizen.
The original decision “was, in a legal sense, unreasonable”, the judgment said.