Moreland council condemns secret immigration detention centre

December 17, 2020
Outside the Mantra Hotel in Preston. Photo: Jacob Andrewartha

The City of Moreland Council voted to condemn the establishment of a secret immigration detention centre in Fawkner at its meeting on December 9. The motion was moved by Socialist councillor Sue Bolton.

Bolton found out about the secret prison through contacts in the refugee rights movement. The council was never notified by Australian Border Force or the Department of Home Affairs that it had set up an APOD (Alternative Place of Detention) in the Moreland Council area.

The Best Western Fawkner Suites and Serviced Apartments on Sydney Road signed a contract to turn its serviced apartments into a pop-up prison for refugees and people at risk of deportation.

This is similar to the arrangement that ABF has with Mantra Hotel in Preston, where 65 refugees from Manus and Nauru are being held in detention. The refugees were all medical evacuees to Australia because of their lack of specialist medical facilities.

Some of those in detention at the Best Western in Fawkner were imprisoned on Nauru for years before being evacuated to Australia to seek medical treatment, only to be locked up again.

Conditions at the Best Western are causing them huge distress, as visitors are not allowed and neither can the detainees undertake any activities.

They have access to their bedrooms, a kitchenette and a 2 metre by 2 metre concrete courtyard. No communication is allowed between the detainees in the seven units.

Bolton’s motion called on the council to investigate if Best Western is breaching its planning permit by converting its units into a pop-up detention centre. It appeals to the Victorian government to change the planning laws so that motels can not be converted to detention centres and seeks permission for a welfare check on those detained. It also commits council to investigate if Moreland uses the services of any company that participates in, profits from, or facilitates the detention of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia or in an offshore detention.

The motion was passed with just one Labor councillor, Lambros Tapinos, voting against.

Bolton told Green Left she believes it is “sinister” for the federal government to be able to set up secret detention centres to avoid public scrutiny. Since the government started locking up refugees, in the early 1990s, it has gone to great lengths to try to isolate them.

“When detention centres are secret, all sorts of human rights abuses can be committed against refugees, without anyone knowing,” Bolton said.

“The detention centres should be immediately closed down and the refugees and asylum seekers should be able to live in the community. Refugees who are stuck in Papua New Guinea and Nauru as a result of Australia’s cruel policies, should be allowed to come here.”

The refugees detained at the Mantra Hotel in Preston for many months, some for almost one year, were told on December 14 that they would be moved out to another place of detention, but ABF has refused to reveal where they will be moved to.

Ismail Hussein, 29, told The Guardian on December 15 that conditions at Mantra were “more difficult” than what the asyulm seekers had experienced in Manus Island. “Maybe one hour of gym — that's the only time that I am not in my room. The rest of the day, I'm lying on my bed or sitting on the chair.”

Bolton said it is a big concern that the government seems to setting up a network of secret detention centres in motels. “This could also be a tactic to split the refugees in Mantra up into smaller and more isolated groups at motels. It would, of course, increase the enormous pressure on individuals.”

Protests to demand the refugees are freed and not moved to another hotel prison are being held at the Mantra, 215 Bell Street, Preston at 5pm every day and every Saturday at 3pm.

Unionists for Refugees are calling on unions to organise contingents, with banners, to join a solidarity rally on December 19 at 3pm.

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