NorthOvak Djokovic’s dispute with the authorities over entry into Australia has inadvertently highlighted a different situation: that of refugees and asylum seekers trapped for months and years in the Park Hotel.
The infamous detention hotel in Carlton, Melbourne, where the tennis star is likely to spend the weekend while awaiting a court hearing on the cancellation of his visa, has been described by detainees as a “torture cell.”
“There is no fresh air, there was a fire recently, the food is not good, we do not have access to a gym, the hotel is totally closed,” Jamal Mohamed, 38, tells Guardian Australia.
“I am suffering every day. I have nightmares every night, all I want is freedom. It’s really terrible, I don’t know anyone here who feels good about it. “
Mehdi, a refugee who has spent nine years in detention, told Guardian Australia: “There is a disappointment: everyone wants to ask me about Novak, what the hotel is like for him. But they do not ask about us: we have been locked up in this place for months, years.
“I have never seen so many cameras, so much attention. I hope Novak Djokovic finds out about our situation here, and I hope he talks about it. “
The Australian Border Force has been using the Carlton’s Park Hotel in Melbourne as an ad-hoc detention center for refugees since December 2020.
Many of the refugees and asylum seekers have been detained for up to nine years, and the Park Hotel is only their most recent location after being transported from Nauru for medical reasons.
The vast majority of those still being held at the hotel, seized as an ‘alternative place of detention’ by the federal government, were brought to Australia in 2019 from offshore processing islands under short-lived medical evacuation laws.
That means that doctors judged they needed urgent medical attention for serious illnesses. Most have not received the medical attention they need.
Jamal Mohamed said conditions had worsened during the time he was there.
“It is like a torture cell. I would definitely call it torture, ”he said.
In late December, reports emerged that worm foods and moldy bread were served to detainees, with some reportedly becoming ill from the food.
Several fires also broke out in December, leading to the evacuation of refugees and the transfer of one person to hospital due to smoke inhalation.
Ishmael, another refugee detained at the hotel, said that he and his fellow refugees have been “treated badly” at the hotel, and says he feels he is “losing his mind” there.
“We have been held in a place with no sunlight, no fresh air, nowhere to move, and we spend 23 hours a day in a single room with no windows, and we don’t know how long we will be kept here.”
“We have been sick, both physically and mentally.”
When he learned of Djokovic’s arrival, he said the tennis star was “lucky” that he would not be treated like them.
“We know that they want to send a message, with the arrival of Djokovic, that they have a strong border that is fair to everyone. But it hasn’t been fair for nine years. They distinguish between people according to their class, some people from developed countries have never been arrested.
“So now they want to send that message, but it is not true, and it has never been true, they have discriminated against people who come by boat, the most vulnerable people who have no other option.”
The Park Hotel was the center of a Covid outbreak in October and November, nearly half of the people detained there tested positive for Covid. At least one was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
But even before it was a detention center, under its former name Rydges, the hotel was used for hotel quarantine and was the center of Victoria’s second wave of Covid.
Joy, another refugee detained at the hotel, called it a “torture center” and said he has been there for two years for “no reason”.
“Freedom is beautiful for human beings. Novak Djokovic can be detained for nine hours or nine days. But we have suffered medical abuse. “
“We are discriminated against because we come by boat, not by plane. There was no concern. We came for safety, not to play tennis. It’s not sporty or fair. “
“Please, we want our freedom.”
TO government investigation found that “about 90 percent of the Covid-19 cases in Victoria since the end of May 2020 were attributable to the outbreak in Rydges.”
Rydges was removed from Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, according to government research: “Not enough attention was paid to infection prevention and control standards throughout the program and in particular there.”
“There were consistent themes in the evidence and information provided to the Investigation on concerns regarding issues including: access to the outdoors; access to good quality food; the cleanliness of the facility “.
The 107-room hotel, on Swanston Street, was purchased by the Pelligra Group in September 2020 for $ 35 million, and its name changed from Rydges to Park.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism