Twenty-four refugees now detained in Carlton’s Park Hotel

Katie Johnson

Twenty-four refugees are now indefinitely detained at Carlton’s Park Hotel after 13 additional refugees were transferred from a Brisbane quarantine facility on April 19.

The men, who had been transferred from Nauru and Manus to receive medical care in Australia, were awoken at 4am to news they were being moved from Brisbane’s Kangaroo Point Hotel to Melbourne.

Park Hotel refugee Hamid Yousefi who was detained on Manus Island for seven years and in hotels for two years, said the arrival of the new men was due to “sadistic and tortuous policy”.

“Serco woke up all the refugees who were fasting during Ramadan to move them to the Park Hotel,” Mr Yousefi said.

“At first they said we would be forced to share rooms which they eventually did not, but we are all so broken and tired from not being treated like human beings.”

The transfer took place due to a dispute involving the hotel owners, the lessor, and sub-lessor Serco which runs detention sites for the federal government.

While the council doesn’t have any say in the matter, Inner City News understands that City of Melbourne (CoM) councillors weren’t given any warning of the transfer.

Despite this, Mr Yousefi, who has been recognised as a genuine refugee since 2015, said the City of Melbourne was indifferent to the men’s suffering.

“They only care about the beauty of Melbourne, they don’t care about us,” Mr Yousefi said.

“They don’t support us at all, only look on at our torture.”

When asked what action had been taken to advocate for the men’s release since the council voted for a watered-down “refugee-advocacy policy” on February 16, a CoM spokesperson said the following had been done:

“Council has requested further support and medical services be provided to refugees that remain detained in the Park Hotel in Carlton. We have also requested information regarding the status of their cases,” the spokesperson said.

“The Lord Mayor has written to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, seeking an explanation for their continued detention and requested a response regarding the medical and mental health support being provided.”

While the Lord Mayor’s office awaits a reply from the Minister for Immigration, the Park Hotel refugees have not received any information about when they will be released.

Activist and former CoM candidate Apsara Sabaratnam said the mental health of the men remaining was declining every day they remained imprisoned.

“The men are very distressed, particularly since they’ve watched so many of their friends be released and they don’t know why they’re left behind,” Ms Apsara said.

“The Park Hotel has 100 rooms, and 24 of those are occupied by refugees, so the hotel is also profiting handsomely from having them there.”

Ms Sabaratnam said protests were currently being held outside the Department of Home Affairs on Wednesdays and Fridays to educate Melburnians about the cost of indefinite detention.

“Among other things we’re drawing attention to the fact that in the last eight years, offshore and onshore detention has cost the community $20 billion,” Ms Sabaratnam said.

“This regime is not only brutal but it costs us as taxpayers and the economy immensely.”

Refugee Action Collective member Chris Breen said the situation was “grave” as the men’s mental health was deteriorating every day they remained inside.

“The City of Melbourne needs to immediately call on the federal government to release the men in the Park Hotel,” Mr Breen said.

“There have been releases of more than 100 people, so the men left behind for no good reason are despairing.”

Mr Breen said recently there had been multiple self-harm incidents, a suicide attempt and two people have been sent back to Nauru.

“There’s no information about why these 11 men have been left so they feel helpless,” Mr Breen said.

“The first few people who came out all had legal cases where they’d applied to go back to Papua New Guinea or Nauru because they said it was worse here, and at least offshore they could wander around.”

Protestors have continued to hold vigils every night outside the Park Hotel at 6pm to advocate for the men’s release.

More than 1500 people also participated in the March for Justice for Refugees Palm Sunday rally on March 28.

As the largest rally since lockdown ended, the protesters marched from the State Library of Victoria to the Park Hotel in Carlton where the then-11 refugees watched on from their hotel windows.

When asked what life was like in the Park Hotel, Mr Yousefi said it was like living in limbo.

We are not awake, we are not asleep, we are between life and death for the past eight years,” he said.

The next Free the Medevac Refugees rally will be held on May 29 at 2pm •

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