More than 150 people attended a rally organised by the Refugee Action Collective outside the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel and Apartments on 15 January 2021, where close to one hundred refugees and asylum seekers remain incarcerated, some for nearly two years.

Before being locked-up in this hotel the refugees were detained either on Nauru or PNG. In total they have now been detained for over seven years.

The refugees were brought to Australia for medical treatment under the ‘Medevac’ laws introduced by Dr Kerryn Phelps in early 2019. Prior to the Medevac laws, refugees held on Nauru and Manus Island often fought desperate battles in the Federal Court before the government would act to bring them to Australia for medical care.

The law firm, Maurice Blackburn, alone, fought 20 pro bono cases, many involving sick children. Tragically, Iranian refugee Hamid Khazaei died in 2014 because of a sepsis infection after health and government bureaucrats overroad a clinical decision by a doctor to have him immediately evacuated from Manus to Australia.

In December 2019, the re-elected Morrison government repealed the ‘Medevac’ laws. The ongoing incarceration of the refugees at Kangaroo Point, who can’t be returned to Nauru or PNG, seems like political payback.

The so-called ‘PNG Solution’

The mistreatment of the refugees on Nauru and PNG is part of Australia’s hard-line deterrence policy, introduced in 2013, when it was declared that any refugee arriving by boat after July 19 would never be resettled in Australia. The public was told that if these people were found to be refugees, they would be resettled in PNG or a third country would need to take them.  

After seven years, none have been successfully resettled in PNG and the only country to take a significant number of refugees from Nauru and PNG is the USA. However, there still remains about 127 refugees on Nauru and 145 in PNG and about another 2500 living in community detention in Australia and about 230 in closed detention; places such as the Kangaroo Point Hotel, the Park hotel in Melbourne or in various detention centres.

New Zealand offered to take 150 refugees a year out of Nauru and PNG, but the federal government has rejected this offer claiming it will be a “backdoor into Australia”.

Many of the refugees brought to Australia under the medevac laws have been broken mentally. The link between detention and mental illness is well documented. As early as 2010, Professor Patrick McGory, one of Australia’s leading psychiatrists, described Australia’s detention centres as “factories of mental illness”. This ongoing incarceration is a form of torture.

Second class visas

The abuse of the refugees on Nauru and PNG is just the tip of the iceberg in Australia’s mistreatment of people seeking asylum. There are about another 31,000 people in Australia who were processed or are being processed under the very unfair ‘fast track’ processing system. Many of these people arrived before the introduction of the so-called ‘PNG solution’ but were denied the right to seek asylum under Julia Gillard’s ‘no-advantage test’. The Abbott government too refused to process them until the ‘fast track’ system was introduced. Some arrived after the introduction of the ‘PNG Solution’ but for capacity reasons were not sent off-shore and were eventually allowed to claim asylum in Australia but within this inferior system.

If found to be a refugee under the discriminatory ‘fast track’ system, only Temporary Protection Visas or Safe Haven Enterprise Visas are granted. The temporary nature of their visas makes it impossible for them to feel safe and secure and to establish roots. Refugees on these visas must reapply for the visa every three or five years and constantly face the fear of being returned to persecution in their home countries. Borrowing money for housing loans is difficult and employers are reluctant to train people on temporary visas.  Their children can study but once they reach tertiary level, they have to pay international student fees. They are also denied the right to family reunion.  

There are about 15,500 people living on these inferior visas; another 3,700 have been rejected as refugees by the unfair processing system; while, incredibly after seven years, there are over 8,500 people who still haven’t been processed.

Fighting for change

The Refugee Action Collective believes this mistreatment will continue until sufficient public pressure is put on the government to force them to change their policy.

In late 2019, the Morrison government was forced to evacuate all the children off Nauru by a broad public campaign which involved mass protests, strikes and protests by teachers, an open letter signed by 6000 doctors, celebrities speaking out, an online petition signed by almost 100,000 people, and much more.

On that occasion we won the argument and successfully convinced the vast majority of the public that this mistreatment of children on Nauru was intolerable. We need to build a similar broad community-based campaign to free the refugees from the hotel prisons.

Amy MacMahon

At January’s rally, Greens Member for South Brisbane, Amy MacMahon, spoke alongside Cherie Wills from Unions for Refugees and Lisa Bridle from the Christian activist group, Love Makes A Way.

Amy told the crowd she represented the people of South Brisbane and that included those locked up in the Kangaroo Point hotel.

Lisa spoke of the need to,

“…work harder to convince those inside and outside our faith communities to force accountability on our leaders.”
Cherie talked about her union values of “fairness, dignity, respect, equality, solidarity and justice” and the “need to humanise the dehumanised” and to “learn the stories … and share these stories”.

Following the speakers, people marched in the streets.


If you wish to get involved or help the Refugee Action Collective build a broad-based community campaign, please join our mailing list at

All images, Mark Gillespie