Awareness of the plight of refugees detained in hotels, like those at Kangaroo Point Central, has been heightened during the COVID-19 shutdown, but their situation is not new.

According to The Conversation, the Department of Home Affairs recorded 1,436 people in detention on mainland Australia at the end of February 2020, and it has increasingly made use of hotels as Alternative Places of Detention (APOD) despite the Government being told hotels are “not appropriate places of detention”.

The men housed in hotels in Brisbane and Melbourne were brought to Australia from Manus or Nauru in 2019 for medical treatment under the now defunct Medivac program. Some of them have been in detention for many years.

In objection to their ongoing confinement, small protests have been held around Kangaroo Point Central for some weeks now.

Mark Gillespie from the Refugee Action Collective (RAC) said that the protests were initiated by the refugees themselves.

“They contacted the media and activists, and began holding daily protests on the balcony of the hotel.”

To rally community support, the RAC, along with Refugee Solidarity Brisbane/ Meanjin. called for ‘solidarity protests’ to be held every Friday afternoon.

COVID laws meant that the protesters had to get creative, so they began holding “exercising protests” where they walked, jogged, and cycled around the block.

“The Police decided to crack down, but people just kept coming back, and every week the protests grew. Eventually, the Police gave up,” Mr Gillespie said.

But things began to escalate in earnest over the weekend as Serco started making attempts to move some of the refugees to higher security detention centres.

Kangaroo Point Central by us Photos

Last Friday night combined faith group Queensland Community Alliance held a peaceful vigil, and on Saturday a large authorised rally assembled outside the hotel as part of a National Day of Action.

“We also initiated a 24/7 community blockade of the hotel. This has been necessary because five of the detainees, including Farhad, who has been one of their most prominent spokespeople, were transferred to the highly securitised Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation.

“We feel that Border Force wants to close down their ability to protest on the balcony and put them again out of sight and out of mind,” Mr Gillespie said.

In the short term, the aims of RAC and other activist groups is to prevent transfers, but ultimately, they want to see the refugees released into the community.

“Some of them have been locked up in this hotel for about a year, and before that about six years on Nauru and PNG.”

“They have all been brought to Australia for medical reasons, but they aren’t getting proper care. A lot of them have severe mental health problems which the ongoing detention is just making worse.”

Mr Gillespie said that one young man was just 15 when he was sent to PNG. He is now 22.

“Another man has been separated from his wife and child for three years. He was told the only way his five-month-old son could be transferred from Nauru to Australia to get the urgent medical treatment he needed, was to agree to allow his wife and son to be transferred without him. He was later transferred to Australia himself but has since been stuck in the hotel. His wife and son live less than an hour away, and since COVID, he can’t even receive visits.”

Mr Gillespie said that he and others in the RAC are very hopeful that their aims can be achieved.

“The campaign to get all the children off Nauru was a success. Once the Australian public became aware of the damage offshore detention was doing to children, Morrison was forced to act. This campaign is the same. We need to use the campaign at the Kangaroo Point hotel to raise awareness about the cruelty being inflicted on these innocent people.”

Cr Jonathan Sri

Gabba Ward Councillor, Jonathan Sri, who has been a prominent organiser of protests at Kangaroo Point was arrested on Saturday afternoon, 13 June. He is critical of the way in which the Police have managed the situation and considers that he has been singled out by them for special attention.

In a statement today, Cr Sri said:

 “On Saturday afternoon, I participated in an authorised peaceful assembly outside the Kangaroo Point hotel where over 120 refugees are being held in indefinite detention.

“Most of these men have been held in detention for seven years now, and have already been found to be genuine refugees, which is why they haven’t been sent to their countries of origin. They’ve passed their health and security checks, and under international law, they should be released into the community and granted asylum.”

Cr Sri said that Saturday’s assembly was lawful and peaceful.

“Towards the end of the evening, I was given an ambiguous and possibly unlawful move-on direction to leave the roadway, which I complied with.”

Cr said he was arrested without further warning after he had returned to pack up the PA system and move his vehicle off the road.

“Out of the hundreds of people who participated in the authorised peaceful assembly, I was the only one to be charged with an offence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I was singled out,” Cr Sri said.

Cr Sri said he considers the Police have imposed “excessive and onerous” bail conditions which will result in his arrested if he ventures to within 200 metres of the Kangaroo Point Hotel before his charge is heard on 27 August.

“The Police have clearly used this bail condition to prevent me from attending and supporting protests calling for the refugees to be freed. I think they got me out of the picture first, as a precursor to yesterday’s attempts at breaking up the protest,” Cr Sri said.

On Monday, the Police also arrested Dane de Leon, another of the core organisers, also for failing to comply with a move on direction.

“Queensland Police now seem to be developing a pattern of arresting residents on flimsy grounds and later dropping the charges, simply so they can impose bail conditions preventing residents from attending peaceful assemblies,” Cr Sri said.

There has been no comment from Brisbane City Council (BCC) about his arrest Cr Sri said today, but as a declared Refugee Welcome Zone, he said he would expect that BCC would be joining calls for the release of these men.

Cr Sri says that he will continue to support further protests until the men are free.

While they have not participated in any protests, local Federal and State Labor members, Terri Butler and Jackie Trad, whose electorates include Kangaroo Point, have each made statements about the continued detention of these refugees.

In an interview with the Westender in May, Ms Butler said that the situation had been handled terribly by the Federal Government. She said she visited the hotel last year because she thinks it is important that the Government understands that the local member is applying scrutiny. 

“I also continue to lobby the Government about the conditions at the centre.”

Ms Butler said that it is important that the Government explains how they will ensure the health and wellbeing of people in immigration and community detention during this health crisis.

“I share concerns expressed by many people and groups who have been in contact regarding the circumstances of people in immigration detention, particularly following reports that a staff member at Kangaroo Point has tested positive for COVID-19.

Ms Butler said that Labor has been asking the Government how they are managing the coronavirus risk within facilities and whether they are considering community detention.

“I want to encourage people to add their voices to this request by contacting the Acting Minister,” Ms Butler told the Westender.

Ms Trad said in a recent Facebook post said that at a federal level Labor has been calling on the Morrison Government to consider community detention or permanent settlement for the asylum seekers, “… rather than shunting them from one detention facility to a hotel and back to the detention facility in the middle of a pandemic.”

Ms Trad has also written to the Premier, asking her to take these issues to the National Cabinet.

Next Sunday, 21 June, there are plans for another demonstration demanding that Saif be allowed to hug his son.

Mark Gillespie would like to see a broader range of groups supporting the campaign.

“I’d like to see unions, churches and other organisations getting behind the campaign. In 2016 a broad coalition of groups that included doctors, unions, activist groups, faith-based organisations and more, successfully stopped a baby in the Lady Cilento hospital from being transferred back to Nauru. We need a similar approach now,” Mr Gillespie told the Westender.


For Cr Sri’s full press-conference see HERE

Cover image, us Photos, image of Jonathan Sri by Jan Bowman