These 33 men are in indefinite lockdown

These 33 men are in indefinite lockdown
Ellen Sandell

Right now, 33 men are being held in indefinite detention in the middle of Melbourne at the Park Hotel in Carlton. They have committed no crime. They have fled war, persecution, violence and torture, and tried to seek a safer life.

Yet instead of welcoming them, our federal government has locked them up in tiny hotel rooms, without charge, and with no idea of when (or if) they will ever be released.

Just before lockdown, I spoke at a rally outside the Park Hotel on Swanston St, Carlton, where these men are being held. Even though the government has tinted the windows so we couldn’t see the men’s faces, they held up their phone torches so we knew they could see us. As the local MP for the inner city, I wanted the men inside the hotel-prison to know that we welcomed them to our community and we would keep fighting until they were free.

Though we’ve all experienced being confined in our homes during COVID lockdowns, I couldn’t help thinking that this doesn’t even compare to what these men have endured.

This goes against common decency, and against our Melbourne and Australian values. Even our national anthem proclaims “for those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share”, yet I was reminded that both major political parties support indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

As a few hundred people gathered in the park to show solidarity with these men, dozens of police, including on horses, surrounded the hotel. The police initially tried to prevent the public from getting close to the hotel, so the imprisoned men couldn’t see the protestors from their windows. Eventually, the police relented and let people gather in the park adjacent to the hotel-prison. I couldn’t help but wonder whether this huge, disproportionate police presence was a good use of state government resources.

Melbourne is a caring and compassionate place where we welcome difference and diversity with open arms, not with prison and police. Even though detention of refugees and asylum seekers is a federal issue, I feel that all of us, at all levels of government, have a responsibility to speak up against such a cruel abuse of power and contravention of human rights.

Thank you to all the members of our community who have been fighting for freedom for refugees and asylum seekers for so long. We need to hold the major parties accountable for their support for this abhorrent situation.

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