Refugee Action Collective (Vic)

Free the refugees! Let them land, let them stay!

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.

Update on Chris Breen’s court case

RAC activist Chris Breen appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 10 February, charged with incitement.

Police and Chris had given evidence at the first day of the hearing on 27 January. This time it was the turn of Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz) to give evidence.

The case was adjourned until 10am on Wednesday 17 March when lawyers for the prosecution and defence will make legal arguments.

Join the solidarity speak-out on 17 March.

Find out more about the case.

RAC statement on COVID-19 and rallying for refugees

8 January 2021

RAC takes the pandemic seriously: we are well aware of the threat COVID-19 has posed, in particular to refugees in detention. We will do everything we can to minimise risk at the rally to free the Medevac refugees at 2pm this Saturday 9 January at the State Library.

We will encourage social distancing and the spreading out of attendees. We require masks to be worn, and will provide them free on the day. We will provide hand sanitiser and QR registration codes.

We note that around 13,000 people watched Melbourne Victory vs Brisbane Roar on 2 January and that there are no absolute limits on crowds indoors in the casino, strip clubs or shopping centres, only density requirements. There is no reason that people rallying for refugee rights should be more restricted.

Victoria has now had two days in a row of zero COVID-19 cases (from almost 60,000 tests), reducing the level of risk. The level of risk posed by outdoor events such as rallies is less than indoors – Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has acknowledged the risk is 20 times less outdoors. We will also be wearing masks.

The risk from continuing indefinite detention to refugees is not small. One in two people in the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows have self-harmed or attempted suicide. The figure is one in five in the detention hotels. A few days after refugees were forcibly moved to the Park Hotel one man tried to jump off the roof. More than half of refugees held offshore have diagnosable mental illnesses caused by detention. Thirteen people have died offshore. Every day refugees mental and physical health deteriorates in detention.

Refugees themselves are more at risk of COVID-19 than the general population. They have been left unable to properly protect themselves from COVID-19 in detention and the fear of the pandemic has further eroded their mental health. Outside detention, refugees are denied JobKeeper or JobSeeker, making them especially vulnerable. Despite all these difficulties refugees continue to demand their freedom and security, and ask for our solidarity.

The pandemic has not stopped the Coalition’s cruelty to refugees. Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton get lies about refugees into the media on a regular basis. Protest is the voice of refugees in detention. Protest is the voice of the refugee solidarity movement outside of detention, it is often how we get coverage of refugee issues in the media. The refugee movement is the opposition to the Coalition on refugees and we will not let our voice fall silent.

The people imprisoned in the Park Hotel are all recognised refugees. They were brought here for treatment but have received punishment instead.

As Moz, a refugee detained for seven and a half years, first on Manus and now in the Park Hotel has said:

The government hides the reality from people. I want people to see clearly what the Australian government is doing. I want them to see that the government is torturing us.

I think we will be free when thousands of people come into the streets. I don’t believe we’ll be freed by the people who have kept us in cages for years. That doesn’t make any sense to me. I believe I will get my freedom from the people.

We encourage all refugee supporters to rally at the State Library at 2pm on Saturday 9 January and march with us to the Park Hotel, to demand freedom and permanent resettlement in Australia for the refugees held there.