Protests grow to free, not move, detained refugees

Outside the Mantra detention hotel on December 14. Photo: Jacob Andrewartha

A protest camp sprung up on December 14 outside the Mantra Hotel in Preston, drawing at least 200 people to try and prevent the detainees from being removed. They are calling on the federal government not to move the men, but to free them.

About 60 men have been detained at the Mantra Bell City hotel in Bell Street, Preston for 16 months. They were bought to Australia from off-shore detention on Manus Island to receive medical treatment under the now-repealed medevac law.

The detainees were told that the Australian Border Force would not be renewing the contract with the Mantra and that they would be forced to move to an unspecified “alternative place of detention”, also known as an APOD.

Last week, a few men were released on visas from Mantra and the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre in Broadmeadows last week and there were high hopes among the detainees and their supporters that justice would prevail.

Refugee activist Alex Bhathal told The Age on December 14 that said she had been told by a guard at Mantra that the men would be leaving on December 15.

On December 14, a Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said: “The current lease at the Mantra Bell City hotel alternative place of detention expires shortly and will not be renewed.

“As a result, detainees will be transferred to another facility in Melbourne. Details on transfers or locations are not provided ahead of time for operational and security reasons.

“Transitory people are encouraged to finalise their medical treatment in Australia so they can continue on their resettlement pathway to the United States, return to Nauru or PNG, or for those who are not refugees, return to their home country.

“In line with Australian government policy, no one under regional processing arrangements will be settled in Australia.”

Refugee rights activist Craig Foster wants the federal government to take up New Zealand’s offer to re-settle the detainees.

Weekday protests are being organised at 5pm outside the Mantra Hotel and on the weekends at 3pm.

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