Asylum seekers transferred to Australia under medevac laws held in Melbourne hotel

More than 40 people are believed to have been held under guard in Mantra hotel in Preston

Asylum seekers transferred to Australia under medevac laws held in Melbourne hotel
Courtesy/News Source:

Asylum seekers transferred from Manus Island to Australia for medical treatment under the now-defunct medevac laws have been held in a hotel in Melbourne’s inner north under guard, in detention conditions they say are worse than Manus Island.

Close to 180 people were brought to Australia under the medevac law and the majority of those were referred to specialists after an initial health assessment.

They are being held in Australia in what the department refers to as “offsite APODs” (alternative places of detention) such as hospitals or hotels.

More than 40 people are believed to have been held in the Mantra hotel in Preston, in Melbourne’s inner north, for weeks and even months after being transferred to Australia for medical treatment.

While the $160-a-night hotel might look like an upgrade from detention facilities on Manus Island or Nauru, Guardian Australia understands the men are being detained on whole floors of the hotel, under guard, and are unable to interact with other hotel patrons. The Age, which first reported the story, stated the men cannot leave the hotel or go outside, and have access to the hotel gym for two hours each day.

One of those men, a Kurdish refugee named Moz, was transferred to Australia under the medevac legislation over 40 days ago, after nearly seven years of being detained on Manus Island.

Moz was transferred to treat his asthma. He told Guardian Australia that when he was transferred to Australia he was given a chest x-ray and told his chest was clear, and that was the extent of the treatment.

“For four years I’m coughing, and there’s no treatment.”

Moz has been in the hotel ever since, sharing a room with one other person. Some people had been there for five months, he said, adding that the situation was “worse than Manus”.

“They have locked me up in a hotel and there is not any outdoor space for breathing. It’s not an easy situation.

“It’s much worse than Manus because I suffer from asthma and I need an outdoor space.”

The only way people detained in the hotel can go outside is to visit the Melbourne immigration transition accomodation (Mita) in Broadmeadows for short periods. Moz said it took two days to receive allowance to go there. He also said he suffered from PTSD that can be triggered by all the security at the centre.

“When I go there, I’m just trembling.”

He said there wa

s no indication from the Department of Home Affairs on what the next stage would be, and whether he would be returned to Manus Island.

“It’s stressful. They don’t tell us anything, and I don’t know what is going to happen after this.”

The department did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. In a statement to the Age, the department indicated those transferred to Australia under medevac could be returned to offshore detention.

Sarah Dale, principal solicitor at Refugee Advice and Casework Service, who has visited people who have stayed in the hotels, said it was fair to assume that people’s mental health would deteriorate while in detention, even if it was in a hotel.

“Until you’re in the community or on a bridging visa, you’re still under lock and key,” she said. “If there’s a guard outside your room, you’re detained.”

Medical treatment takes time, Dale said, and for many brought to Australia the care needs to be more than just a few days.

Refugee advocate Jane Salmon said a hotel was not a substitute for community detention and resettlement.

“What causes most harm is limited choice, perpetual uncertainty, and, of course, powerlessness. A view of a car park is no alternative to an adequate treatment plan by IHMS [International Health and Medical Services].”

The situation in the Mantra hotel is not unique to Melbourne, with refugees transferred to Brisbane also being detained in hotels.

The federal government was successful in repealing the medevac law with the help of key crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie earlier this month.