Refugee supporters protested on Saturday outside the Park Hotel prison in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton, where 46 Medevac refugees are detained behind sealed windows.
Twenty of the men have tested positive to COVID-19 and there are fears the virus will spread among the other detainees, who are all sharing the same ventilation system and cannot isolate. Many have medical conditions that add to their vulnerability to the disease.
“We are calling to free the refugees, for the hotel to be immediately evacuated, for those with COVID-19 to be assessed by doctors, and transferred to appropriate facilities, and for those residents who are negative to be transferred to ordinary hotel quarantine for their own safety,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective (RAC).
Some 170 people joined the RAC rally, the first after the lifting of Melbourne’s lockdown. The protest was supported by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and the Australian Education Union.
Speakers included Mohammad and Azizi, refugees speaking from inside the hotel by phone; Dr Tim Read, state MP and Greens Victoria Justice and Health spokesperson; Farhad Bandesh, a freed Medevac refugee; Atena, an Iranian refugee; Hassan Jaber from the Migrant Workers Centre and Justice for Refugees; Lavanya Thavaraja from the Tamil Refugee Council; and Chris Breen for RAC.
Mohammad told the crowd: “Get us free out of here, we didn’t do anything wrong. We just came here for medical treatment, we were asking for safety place and they are punishing us for no reason.
“They put us under mental pressure which is really unsafe for us in this situation.”
Breen said: “It’s hard to think of a more sustained and cruel crime in recent years than what has been done by the Australian government to the Medevac refugees.
“Detained for over eight years, attacked by the people who guarded them on Manus Island, locked up in Australia after being brought for medical treatment they often didn’t receive, and now in fear for their lives in the Park Hotel COVID-19 death trap.
“These refugees should never have been in the Park Hotel, they should have been released like the majority of the Medevac refugees. The government has never provided an explanation for why these men have received different treatment.
“That discrimination has left them in a sealed hotel, unable to open windows, socially distance or protect themselves. All have now been exposed to COVID-19.
“The Refugee Action Collective warned of precisely the current situation, with a safe car convoy protest in April last year. Out of that protest I was charged with incitement (I have since been found not guilty) and 30 refugee supporters still face $50,000 in fines.
“Yet the authorities actually responsible for spreading COVID-19 face no consequences—nor are they acting to protect the refugees in their ‘care’.
“This COVID-19 outbreak is Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s responsibility, the health and lives of these refugees is in his hands. The Andrews Labor government also has extensive health powers that would enable it to intervene, but it has not.
“It is not too late to act, to evacuate the refugees, and to provide them with quality healthcare, not detention,” concluded Breen.
By David Glanz