Nearly all refugees held in Melbourne hotel detention to be released, advocates say

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Refugees to be granted bridging visas more than a year after they were transferred to Australia under now-repealed medevac laws

Protests outside the Park Hotel in Carlton where about 60 men are being detained.
Advocates say more than 20 refugees who have been detained at Melbourne hotels for more than a year are set to be released. Photograph: Erik Anderson/EPA
Advocates say more than 20 refugees who have been detained at Melbourne hotels for more than a year are set to be released. Photograph: Erik Anderson/EPA

Last modified on Wed 20 Jan 2021 01.00 EST

Refugee advocates expect nearly all detainees being held in a Melbourne hotel to be released into the community by the end of the week, after more than 20 were granted bridging visas on Wednesday.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said 26 men had been released from the Park Hotel in Carlton into the community on Wednesday and the remaining detainees had told them another 34 would be let out on Thursday.

About 60 men have been held in Melbourne hotel rooms since late 2019, after they were brought to Australia from Manus Island or Nauru for medical treatment under the now-repealed medevac legislation.

The men were moved from the Mantra hotel in Preston in December to the Park Hotel, previously called the Rydges on Carlton, which had been used as a quarantine hotel for returned travellers.

Earlier, one of the detainees in the hotel, Mostafa “Moz” Azimitabar, congratulated the 26 refugees being let out of the “Park prison”.

Azimitabar later tweeted that another 25 would likely be moved into the community tomorrow.

The Department of Home Affairs refused to say how many in total were being granted bridging visas.

Footage taken by activists from outside the hotel showed there was a heavy police presence as buses departed for the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation where the men were processed before being released.

The Department of Home Affairs said in a statement the men would be able to live in the community in Australia until their medical treatment was completed.

“The individuals residing in the alternative places of detention were brought to Australia temporarily for medical treatment. They are encouraged to finalise their medical treatment so they can continue on their resettlement pathway to the United States, return to Nauru or PNG or return to their home country,” the department said.

“A final departure bridging visa allows individuals to temporarily reside in the Australian community while they finalise their arrangements to leave Australia.”

The bridging visas are for six months, and will allow the refugees to work in Australia and have access to Medicare.

The vast majority of the 192 asylum seekers and refugees brought to Australia under medevac remain in detention.

The latest release follows the freeing of five asylum seekers from detention at the Mantra in early December, days before the federal government was required to make submissions in their cases to the federal court.

Refugee activists celebrated news of the men’s imminent release, but said they should be allowed to settle in Australia.

“While it is very good news that the government has begun the release of refugees brought from Manus and Nauru for medical treatment, they should never have been held in detention in Australia,” Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, said.

Rintoul called for the remaining men to be released and granted permanent visas.

“Refugees need the right to work, but they should have permanent visas and have accommodation and income support, access to training and classes to allow them to find their feet in the Australian community,” he said.

“The government still has a duty of care to the people they have held so long in offshore camps and in detention in Australia; they should not just be dumped,” Rintoul said.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre director of advocacy and campaigns, Jana Favero, echoed the call.

“Doctors, lawyers, service providers and the wider community have long called for the release of medevac refugees from harmful conditions in indefinite detention and today the federal government finally is listening to reason,” she said.

“We call on the government to immediately release all 200 people so that they can recover their health safely in the community, where they are supported and welcomed.

“This is a victory first and foremost for the men inside, who’ve put up with terrible conditions for years but never gave up their struggle for freedom,” Nahui Jimenez, protest coordinator for the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, said.

The Greens immigration spokesman, Nick McKim, called for all refugees in detention to be given “a pathway to Australian citizenship”.

“There was never a legitimate reason for their detention, and it’s time to write the end of this dark chapter in our country’s story.”

Once released, the men will have access to three weeks of paid accommodation.

Protests outside the Park Hotel have been happening since the men were moved from the Mantra.