Solidarity with refugees imprisoned in Darwin

27 February 2021

Saturday 27 February 2021 marks one full year that 15 men, women and children have been imprisoned in the Mercure Hotel at Darwin Airport, after seven years exiled on Nauru.

Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) stands in solidarity with the families in Darwin and supports their fight for freedom. We condemn their cruel and unnecessary detention and demand that the Australian government immediately release these families and all refugees in detention and provide effective support and permanent protection as people rebuild their lives.

The four families were transferred to Australia for medical treatment, but have not received proper care. In an open letter, health professionals have called for the Department of Home Affairs and the Federal Government to release the families, stating that: “The health (inclusive of the psychosocial wellbeing) of these 15 individuals is not an exchangeable commodity but is amongst the inalienable human rights of all people.

“Indefinite detention in conditions below that of the minimum expected standard of living, without access to appropriate healthcare, is destructive to the psychological and physical health of human beings.”

One of the 15 refugees detained in Darwin is Hajar Maghames, who fled Iran with her mother, father and brother. Speaking to Refugee Voices, Maghames said: “We ask ourselves, why? Why do we have to suffer in this terrible situation for no crime, no reason? Who will answer? How can we return to good health with the physical and mental issues we now have? What is most important to me now is freedom.”

The Mercure Hotel at Darwin Airport is owned by Accor Group, which also operates the Mantra Bell City Hotel in Melbourne, where more than 60 men were detained for more than a year.

In 2020, RAC (Vic) convened an open letter signed by more than 250 people – including parliamentary and trade union leaders, human rights defenders, international lawyers, community advocates and people seeking asylum – calling on international Accor CEO Sébastien Bazin to put a stop to “the participation of the Mantra and Mercure hotels in the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum-seekers”.

Although the Mantra detention contract has ended, the ongoing use of the Darwin Mercure as a prison shows that nothing has changed in the Accor Group’s willingness to participate in and profit from the imprisonment of innocent people.

The Northern Territory Council of Social Service (NTCOSS) has called for a boycott of the hotel chain, with NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale saying: “Until the Mercure takes a stand against the cruel detention happening alongside its premises, we must take a stand against the Mercure.”

Refugees and supporters are holding daily vigils at the Mercure at 5pm, with larger protests on Saturdays. RAC (Vic) calls for others to join these protests or support them remotely by contacting the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) via Facebook @DassanNT, on Twitter @DASSAN12, or on Instagram @freetheDarwin15.

RAC (Vic) is participating in the National Day of Protest on Friday 5 March, calling for an end to the indefinite and arbitrary detention of all refugees. There will be actions around the country, with the protest in Melbourne from 6pm at the State Library.