For five days in January 2022, the immigration detention center located at the Park Hotel in Melbourne had almost become the center of the world. Before the start of the previous Australian Open, Novak Djokovic, then world number 1, was indeed blocked there due to the vagueness surrounding his vaccination situation. On the spot, hundreds of Serbian supporters came to support their national icon day and night, until his expulsion from the country, where they rubbed shoulders with demonstrators launched into a completely different fight. For many months, they had been trying to obtain the release of the 32 refugees on the floor above the famous tennis player, in this place which they had renamed “Park Hotell” and “Human Zoo”.
“The various hotels where refugees were placed by the Australian authorities from 2019 were real prisons, without the slightest visit possible, points out David Glanz, spokesperson for the association. Refugee Action Collective, who had been presenting a petition on the subject for a year. They were treated like animals there by the government. It must be understood that some of these asylum seekers had previously been locked up for six years on the island of Manus, in Papua New Guinea. [au nord de l’Australie], where they were victims of serious physical and mental disorders. »
“A new psychological torture”
As part of the tightening of its immigration policy in July 2013, Australia systematically sent back to this small island in the Pacific, and to that of Nauru, migrants who tried to arrive by boat, while announcing to them that they could never settle in the country unless they coveted. A year after this unexpected spotlight on their fate “thanks to” the Djokovic affair, what has become of these refugees mainly from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan?
“It has been several months since there has been a single asylum seeker detained at the Park Hotel,” explains Australian activist David Glanz. In my opinion, the main reason is political: the coalition government, with a Liberal Prime Minister, anticipated its defeat in the federal elections of May 21, 2022 and it did not want to allow the Labor Party to afford the fine role in freeing these refugees once elected. But there was never a public explanation of the different release timings, it was another psychological torture for them. So no real “Djoko” effect for this return of the Park Hotel to its original reception function? “No, although it allowed us to show our petition to people on the road leading to the Australian Open tennis courts,” says David Glanz. But it is certain that we immediately saw in this Djokovic affair a fantastic chance to make people talk about the cruel fate reserved for refugees here. »
‘Not treated like human beings’
Transferred in 2019 to Mantra, another hotel converted into a detention center, and located in Preston, near Melbourne, Farhad Bandesh (41) confirms this nuanced opinion: “In a sense, the whole world has had a glimpse of the reality of refugees in Australia. But on the other hand, my friends locked up in the Park Hotel contacted Novak Djokovic and he refused to meet them and speak about their living conditions there, which disappointed us all”.
In February 2022, the Serbian player still had a thought for them, during an interview on the Serbian channel RTC “The few days I spent in this hotel were nothing compared to the nine years of detention of these people. I would have liked to be able to meet them, but we were detained in the hotel and we were not allowed to leave our rooms. They are going through a very difficult time and I will try to find a way to help them”. Originally from Kurdistan, Farhad Bandesh tells us about the nightmarish journey he went through for seven and a half years.
Living conditions were horrible on Manus Island at first, starting with the food. Telephones were forbidden to us so that we could not tell what happened to us to our relatives or to the media. The people in charge of watching us were trying to destroy our soul. Everything was done to make it as bad as possible. When we went to Australia in 2019, I believed in freedom, but it got even worse. Our windows were all blocked and we never had the chance to go outside. I suffered many humiliations there. Whether at the Mantra or the Park Hotel, believe me, we weren’t treated like human beings. In my eyes, the Australian government did not release anyone, it was lawyers, with the help of the media, who allowed this to happen. »
31,000 long-term refugees without permanent visas
Free since December 11, 2020, the day of his 39th birthday, a month before the media coverage of the Park Hotel via Novak Djokovic, Farhad Bandesh benefits from a simple six-month visa which he must systematically renew, like the 31,000 refugees from long standing (according to Refugee Action Collective) who are in Australia without a permanent visa. This situation involves “many restrictions”, between the ban on access to studies, travel outside Australia, and access to school but not to university for their children.
“As we are deprived of studies, we have no qualifications, and therefore we are very limited on the job market, summarizes Farhad, who nevertheless managed to become a partner in a wine and spirits company Australian craftsmen. I feel like I’m illegal: I’m free, but not really. It’s the same for my friends at the Park Hotel: they all have a job but their future remains unclear, with these short visas. Many of them are now seeking visas in Canada and the United States. »
“They have to rebuild”
This is why, as Farhad Bandesh confided to us, a dozen asylum seekers who passed through this hotel of misfortune in downtown Melbourne did not wish to respond to our requests: “They still have a lot of suffering from this long episode of the Park Hotel. They have to rebuild themselves”. And they are no longer in the process of alerting public opinion and the international media as was the case in January 2022. A month ago, the government of Anthony Albanese confirmed that it was going to allow, in beginning of 2023, 19,000 refugees (out of a total of 31,000) to stay permanently in Australia.
“This political promise, which dates from before the federal elections, must succeed because it is absolutely necessary to give hope and security to these refugees,” insists David Glanz. All these asylum seekers did not leave their country for pleasure more than nine years ago, but to escape torture and death. They have chained the traumas in Australia and they still cannot build their life there. “Quite the opposite of Novak Djokovic, for whom the episode seems far away. Qualified for the second round of the 2023 edition on Tuesday, the Serb enjoys stronger popularity than ever in Melbourne, as if the affair had never existed.