Rally demands refugees are freed, given permanent visas

Photo: Andrea Bortoli

Several hundred protesters gathered at the State Library on March 5 to demand that the refugees imprisoned in the Park Hotel and Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation prisons are immediately released.

It also called on the federal government to provide permanent protection visas for all the released Medevac refugees and refugees on temporary protection and bridging visas. The protest was organised by the Refugee Action Collective Victoria (RAC).

Celeste Liddle, federal Greens candidate for Cooper, said both the Liberal and Labor governments have been responsible for violating the human rights of refugees and encouraged people to hold them to account at the election.

Muftahudin Babackerkil, a former advisor to the Afghanistan government, spoke about the deterioration in Afghanistan and said that returning home was not an option for refugees. Babackerkil’s brother is one of the 114 refugees who remain imprisoned on Nauru.

Tony Piccolo, regional secretary of the print division of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union said the union supported freedom for refugees who remain imprisoned and permanent resettlement for those still on temporary visas living in the community.

Babackerkil and Piccolo both highlighted the need for permanent protection visas for refugees to be able to access stable work and education.

The protest marched to the Park Hotel Prison where Peter Lynch, Labor candidate for Kooyong and Ismail Hussein, a Somalian refugee currently imprisoned in the Park Hotel, spoke. Lynch gave an “ironclad” commitment to release the refugees in the Park Hotel prison should Labor win government.

Hussein spoke via phone from inside Park Hotel Prison, describing how refugees are being “tortured mental and physically [and] slowly dying”. He said that like refugees fleeing Ukraine, those locked up in the Park Hotel “didn’t have an option” and were forced to leave family and loved ones. He ended with a plea to government “to please let us go”.

The protests are working: Iranian refugees Mehdi Ali and Adnan Choopani were released on March 4 from the Park Hotel Prison. The men arrived by boat as teenagers in 2013 and were determined to be refugees under the United Nations Convention. Despite this, Ali and Choopani spent the next nine years in detention — on Christmas Island, Nauru and the Park Hotel. Their boat arrived three days after former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed a deal with Papua New Guinea to resettle asylum seekers who arrive by boat without a visa.

Under a 2016 resettlement deal between Australia and the United States, the two men travelled to the US to restart their lives.

[The next major rally for refugee rights is on Palm Sunday on April 10.]