Australia releases 9 refugees from hotel where Djokovic was being held | Human Rights News


Australia has released nine refugees from a detention center at Melbourne’s infamous Park Hotel, the same property where Novak Djokovic was held earlier this year.

Activists said at least four other refugees had also been released from other detention centers in Melbourne and Brisbane in what appeared to be the government’s attempt to deflect a “burning issue” ahead of the federal election in May.

The refugees, released late on Friday, are now being housed in temporary accommodation as they prepare for the next stage of their lives, activists added.

“I think…the government doesn’t want to have a burning issue about Park Hotel as it prepares for the election, and the slow release [of refugees] is a way to just take the pressure off a bit,” said Ian Rintoul, political activist and spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

In January, the government revoked the visa of 34-year-old tennis star Djokovic, who had arrived to play at the Australian Open, detaining him at the Park Hotel under strict pandemic entry restrictions in Australia.

Djokovic’s detention has come to shine a light on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom have spent years in Australia’s notorious detention centres.

Freedom seems surreal

One of the freed refugees, Ismail Hussein, told Al Jazeera he had just 15 minutes to pack and leave the hotel.

“I was having a bad day, I was so depressed. I didn’t leave the room all day,” he said.[I was] lying on the bed, then two security guards came to me [and] says there is [an Australian Border Force officer] downstairs… to meet you.

The officer told Hussein that he had obtained a visa and needed to pack his bags. Hussein said he didn’t even have time to say goodbye to his friends at the hotel.

He said he was taken to Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA), a migrant detention center in Melbourne, to collect the rest of his belongings and was eventually dropped off at a motel in suburban Melbourne. .

Speaking from his room in the new motel, Hussein said his freedom was surreal.

“I couldn’t even sleep last night,” he said. “Every minute, every hour, I was waking up… I was shocked, unable to believe, looking around [to see if this is ] the same room or [a] different room. »

Refugees like Hussein, who arrived in Australia by boat and was detained for nearly nine years, have “no secure future despite the… fact that [they] are finally free,” Rintoul said.

“People who are released find themselves in a very precarious situation, either still in community detention or on six-month relay visas, which must be extended every six months,” he added.

Hussein said he was lodged at the motel for four weeks, at the end of which he would be completely on his own. The government gave him 150 Australian dollars ($109) and he was told “there will be another $150 next week, and that will be it.”

“We have to find our own accommodation, find our own job and find a way to survive here,” he said.

But all that matters now is his freedom, he said. “I have confidence in myself, I believe in myself…I have a lot of friends who support me.”

Hussein said he was worried about the other refugees still being held at the Park Hotel.

“I feel very excited, I feel happy… But it’s bittersweet… I’m gone [my friends] behind. The grief in their eyes, how sad they were,” he said. “It broke my heart.”

Hossein Latifi, one of the refugees still being held inside the Park Hotel, said his heart was “beating so fast” when security guards came for Hussein and others.

“I was nervous and I was like, ‘God, please. We need some good news tonight,’ he said. “When they [refugees] heard only nine people [were being freed]they were very disappointed.

With each release, Latifi said, things only get worse for the refugees left behind at the Park Hotel.

“I was stuck [in] this situation for almost nine years. I can’t say to myself, “I’m going out tomorrow. Nothing for tomorrow, there is no guarantee for tomorrow.

Activists are now calling for the release of all remaining refugees held at the Park Hotel, as well as other maritime arrivals held at other detention centers in Australia and the Pacific.

“There is no reason for the torture to last longer,” Rintoul said. “There is no reason beyond the government’s inhumane refugee policy which detains those arriving by sea. They should be released and allowed to resettle and build their lives in Australia.

Latifi said it was extremely expensive to hold refugees in Australia’s immigration detentions and taxpayers’ money could be used for the good of Australians.

Activists say it costs around $458,500 a year to detain a refugee in a detention hotel.

Hussein said he was still “processing” the fact that he was free. “I hope life will be sweet with us,” he said, adding that he continued to pray for his friends who stayed at the Park Hotel.

“I beg [the government] to let them go to freedom before it’s gone [too] late,” he said. “I just hope they let them go…I beg the government to do the right thing.”

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