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- refugee sues Australian government for alleged illegal imprisonment in Melbourne hotels | Australian immigration and asylum
refugee sues Australian government for alleged illegal imprisonment in Melbourne hotels | Australian immigration and asylum
A refugee held for more than a year at two hotels in Melbourne is suing the federal government for damages, arguing that his use of the hotels to detain immigrants is illegal.
Mostafa “Moz” Azimitabar is suing the Australian government in federal court for unlawful imprisonment. He seeks damages for his detention of more than 14 months in the Melbourne’s Park and Mantra hotels.
“I challenge the government because my rights have been violated,” Azimitabar told The Guardian.
“The government illegally locked me in a hotel it used as a prison. I want to get my rights back.
Australia’s Home Office has used requisitioned hotels as alternative places of detention – known as Apods – for refugees and asylum seekers brought in from offshore detention centers for medical treatment.
Department figures show 78 people are currently being held in Apods across the country, including 42 in Victoria. Some refugees have been confined to hotels for nearly two years.
Azimitabar’s case, which is due to be heard by Judge Bernard Murphy on Friday, concerns only his detention. But if the case were successful, it would have implications for the hundreds of people who have passed through the Apods hotel and who could claim thousands of dollars in compensation as well.
Azimitabar, a musician and member of Iran’s Kurdish minority who fled persecution in his home country, has been held under Australia’s offshore detention regime in Papua New Guinea for more than six years. He told the Guardian that he suffered in detention on Manus Island, but found the hotel detention in Australia stifling. His health seriously deteriorated.
“It was really difficult, there were always a lot of officers around… and I was very stressed.
“After 13 months locked in the Sunless Mantra Prison, I was so sick that they said they would take me to a better place. But that was a lie, the situation at the Park Hotel was much worse.
“In Mantra, I could sometimes put my hand through a small window to touch the sunlight with my hand, but in Park Prison there was a dark glass facing a cement wall, I felt like to be in an invisible prison. I couldn’t see any trees or wave to people outside.
Azimitabar now lives in the Australian community. In February, he wrote to the immigration minister asking for written approvals establishing the park and the Mantra hotels as places of detention, as required by the migration law. He did not receive a response.
The Federal Court statement argues that even if there was written ministerial approval, creating a hotel as an Apod – “with the characteristics of a detention center” – was still beyond the purview. of the Minister under the law. He argues that the detention of Azimitabar between November 11, 2019 and January 21, 2021 was illegal.
Michael Bradley, managing partner of Marque Lawyers, said Azimitabar’s case study, while limited to his detention, had implications for everyone detained at Apods.
“If we are correct, his detention in an Apod was illegal and he is entitled to damages for unlawful imprisonment,” Bradley said.
“It’s a very technical legal argument, but our argument is that (…) there is nothing in the migration law that gives the minister the power to create an Apod. Since the Apods have many features of the detention center – but are not detention centers – they must be the subject of an express power. “
The Home Affairs Department told the Guardian it was aware of Azimitabar’s complaint, but “as the case is in court, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Graham Thom, Amnesty International Australia’s refugee rights adviser, said Azimitabar’s case was a vital test “because it shows why these places are not suitable for detention, especially for refugees, and certainly not the long-term detention that we have seen of people brought to Australia for medical treatment ”.
Thom said the use of hotels as Apods was initially introduced “as a stopgap” to temporarily house refugee families and unaccompanied minors, while suitable accommodation could be found in the community.
But he said it quickly became a long-term measure to detain people indefinitely, especially those coming from Australia’s offshore detention regime for medical treatment under short-term medical evacuation laws.
“The experiences we have seen for people like Moz at Apods over the past 12 months, or almost two years, demonstrate why they are damaging and why it is not appropriate to detain people in this way.
“We saw firsthand the physical and mental toll it took, keeping people in such a confined area with so little access to any form of exercise, fresh air, movement, all of those things. which are so important in ensuring that any detention is legal. These people are entitled to compensation.