As the entire nation was in lockdown this time last year, there was widespread focus on the plight of the refugees who were being confined in close proximity within Melbourne’s Mantra Hotel and Brisbane’s Kangaroo Point Central during the outbreak of COVID-19.
These men, who were formerly detained long-term on Manus Island and Nauru, were brought to Australia in 2019 to receive much needed medical treatment under the provisions of the since revoked Medevac laws.
Last December, something of a Morrison government miracle occurred, as some of the refugees started to be released into the community. Then home affairs minister Peter Dutton put this down to the financial cost of keeping them in detention.
And by February, around 100 of the Medevac refugees had been released.
However, without any indication as to why, 60-odd refugees remain locked up, despite all having been given security checks prior to coming to Australia.
And last week, the remaining detainees wrote to new home affairs minister Karen Andrews asking her to use her discretionary powers to release them.
Slow drip torture
Hundreds of supporters and dozens of grassroots organisations held a mass rally in Melbourne last Saturday, calling on Australian authorities to release the remaining refugees. The activists underscored that the men’s continued detention after the release of the others is taking a huge toll.
Currently, there are around 35 refugees now locked up in the Park Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton.
Iranian man Hamid Reza Yousefi is one of them. The 38-year-old refugee was held on Manus Island by our government for seven years after having arrived in Darwin by boat in 2013.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Hamid about what it’s like to be one of those remaining inside, whether the refugees still in detention are receiving the medical treatment they were brought here for, and how he’s coping through all of this.
Hamid, you and more than 30 other Medevac refugees remain detained in the Park Hotel, while many of the other men who were once with you have been released.
What is it like being detained in the hotel after you’ve watched so many fellow detainees leave?
We were happy to see our friends leave. But now it has been three or four months and we’re upset. We’re thinking about our future.
Has the government told you why you’re still in there while the others have been freed?
They haven’t answered us. We sent an email to them. They said they didn’t know and only the minister knows about that. Nobody knows what the policy is.
All of us are refugees. I was recorded as a refugee in 2015 on Manus Island. But I’m still in detention. I don’t know what the policy is.
You and the other Medevac refugees were brought to Australia to receive medical treatment. Have you been receiving it?
Not at all. They didn’t treat us.
I have a psychologist calling me every week. They call with the same questions. And they make me more upset.
They call me. They don’t know anything. And every week the same questions.
There have been a lot of supporters in the community calling for your release. People have kept a constant sleepout vigil for you outside the hotel.
What has it been like to see such support?
We appreciate the guys who care about us and who come here every day to support us.
Last week, all the Medevac refugees sent a petition to the home affairs minister Karen Andrews. What did the letter say?
We said we are humans. What is our fault?
And lastly, Hamid, how are you all coping in there?
Most of the time, we are our rooms. With too much thinking, we are tired.
We don’t need anything. We don’t need doctors. We don’t need a psychologist. We just need to be freed because we are human.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.