“Deplorable situation”: Carlton asylum seekers granted library access

Spencer Fowler Steen

Asylum seekers being held in detention at the Park Hotel in Carlton will be able to access library services in the City of Melbourne thanks to a council motion which was passed unanimously in September.

There are around 45 men currently in detention at the Park Hotel in Swanston St. Before that, many if not all of them were detained on either Manus Island or Nauru and transferred to Australia under the medivac legislation for urgent medical care.

The motion, proposed by the council’s health, wellbeing and belonging portfolio lead Cr Olivia Ball, plans to deliver services to residents of the Melbourne municipality who, through no fault of their own, cannot attend libraries in person and are especially vulnerable.

Cr Ball said it was well-known that library services contributed to the health and wellbeing of people in closed environments such as prisons and immigration detention.

“So many locals feel deeply for the innocent men detained in the Park Hotel with no knowledge of what their future holds nor means to access justice. This is one small thing local government can do for this small cohort of residents in a deplorable situation,” she said.

Speaking at the meeting, librarian academic Jane Garner from Charles Sturt University, who has a PhD in the role of prison libraries, said that a United Nations General Assembly rule required that all people living in detention must be able to access a library.

“Reading for people living in detention takes on a much greater value than it does for those of us with free access to books, libraries and information,” Dr Garner said. “People living in detention have vast amounts of unstructured and empty time to fill in, often for years at a time and with very few ways to fill that time.”

“This has been shown to have enormously detrimental effects on mental health and wellbeing, leading to destructive behaviours and depression. Books, libraries and reading supports the wellbeing and mental health of prisoners.”

All councillors voted to pass the motion after Dr Garner asked the City of Melbourne to offer the same library services to people detained at the Park Hotel, as every inmate in Victorian prisons already have access to •

Caption: The men inside the Park Hotel (top) and a protest outside the building on Grand Final Day. Photo: RAC.

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