As COVID-19 spreads, protesters ramp up calls for refugees to be released from hotel detention

October 24, 2021
October 23 rally outside the Park Hotel. Photo: Refugee Action Collective (Victoria)/Facebook

Protesters outside the Park Hotel in Carlton on October 23 demanded that all the refugees are released: 46 sick people remained locked up.

Since the first COVID-19 case was found on October 17, it is rapidly spreading through the inadequately ventilated hotel. SBS said on October 24 said that 20 men had tested positive — “almost half of the men detained in this hotel prison”.

Azizi, who has contracted the virus, spoke from inside the Park Hotel via phone. “There is no medical treatment, there is no doctor. For more than one week, I am sick and I didn’t see the doctor. In the last 24 hours, only one nurse has come here and given me two [paracetamols] and not more.”

Azizi pointed out that the Australian Border Force did not allow the paramedics from the ambulance to go inside the Park Hotel. “For what reason are they keeping me here in detention?" he asked.

Protester Andrea Borteli told Green Left that it is “despicable” that the men are in detention at all, let alone with this deadly infection. “As a health care worker, I’m so ashamed that we are treating people like this.”

A refugee, detained in the Park Hotel, told GL that he is isolating in his room after contracting COVID-19 to prevent the spread. Referring to Serco, he said “most of the time they don’t tell us or their guards what’s going on. They just keep us in the dark".

Speaking to the rally, Atena, Junior Taekwondo champion and Iranian refugee on a bridging visa asked how we can celebrate being out of lockdown “are we really free when our brothers and sisters are locked up in detention?” 

Lavanya Thavaraja from the Tamil Refugee Council drew attention to the harsh reality of temporary visas. The government “uses refugees to promote racism and paint them as criminals and then it allows them to be exploited in workplaces, deny them any welfare support, and force them to do unsafe jobs.”

Farhad Bandesh, a Medevac refugee who has suffered nearly 8 years of torture, spoke to the rally via phone. “My friends and I protested from inside the MITA [Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation] and Mantra hotel for freedom and safety. These people fled danger and persecution to find safety, humanity and love but the Australian government has locked them up for so many years and exiled them to horrible torture.”

He said governments have “put our lives in danger so many times”, pointing out that a guard brought COVID-19 in to the Park Hotel and it has “spread to sick people who have no right or ability to protect themselves”. 

Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective (RAC) Victoria described the hotel as a “death trap”. The refugees have been detained for more than eight years. Those “who were really sick were brought here [from offshore prison camps] under the Medevac [laws]. They often didn’t get treatment.”

Referring to refugees who came by boat, Hassan Jaber from the Migrant Workers Centre and Justice for Refugees and a temporary protection visa holder said “we cannot judge people by the way they come here, seeking asylum is legal”. 

Greens MP Tim Read also called for the refugees’ release.

RAC reported that the MITA, the detention centre in Broadmeadows, has also had virus scares and was locked down, after guards tested positive.

Refugees there have said they have been left hungry due to staff and food shortages. Those locked down in an internal compound have received only two small meals a day. “The shortages of cereal, bread, and milk … has already raised tensions among people being held in the locked down compound.”

[Come to the next Healthcare not Detention rally on November 7, which has been endorsed by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and the Australian Education Union.]

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