Why Are Hundreds Of Refugees Being Held In Hotels?

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Nearly two hundred refugees and people seeking asylum are being held in hotels around Australia.   

Some have been detained in their rooms for nearly a year and advocates have been pressuring the government to do something about it.  

But why are they being kept in hotels in the first place? And will they ever actually be granted residency in Australia? 

Refugees In Detention Centres

This story starts in places like Nauru and Papa New Guinea, where refugees have been held in immigration detention centres for years. 

These are people trying to escape persecution in countries like Afghanistan and Syria, who fled looking for safety elsewhere. 

But Australia’s immigration policies have meant that a lot of them have ended up in conditions that are arguably just as horrible and inhumane as the ones they were trying to escape. 

In fact, refugees detained on Manus and Nauru are now seen as the most vulnerable in the world. 

Recently, media attention has turned to those who have ended up in detention within Australia because of a 2019 development called the medevac law. 

What Is Medevac?

Medevac was legislation that pretty much forced the federal government to transfer refugees who were in desperate need of medical attention to Australia.  

It meant those who were suffering from serious conditions, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, would be able to get the help they weren’t being given in offshore detention camps. 

Sahar Okhovat (Refugee Council of Australia)I think medevac was really good because it gave independent doctors a say when it comes to medical matters and that’s what all of us would expect.” 

But ten months after it was put in place, the medevac legislation was repealed without any explanation 

And now, those two hundred refugees who were brought to Australia because of medevac, have been stuck in hotel rooms ever since. 

One refugee from Kurdistan told Junkee that being stuck in a Melbourne hotel has been “…terrible. People look at this hotel as a 4star hotel, but inside this floor it is a torture centre … All my life I am inside a room.” 

The human rights commission published a report last year which said that people should spend very limited amounts of time in hotels for pretty obvious reasons, like the lack of fresh air and access to outdoor activities. This is easy for us to understand after the COVID lockdowns a lot of people have endured. 

SO: I know a lot of people were in mandatory medical quarantine for 14 days. Some of us had to be in lock down but we pretty much had an end date, and what is really frustrating for this population is there is no end date. It is indefinite.” 

There’s no new law that’s replaced medevac.  

The government has just gone back to previous systems that basically let the Department of Home Affairs decide if people should be transferred onshore for medical treatment, without any advice from medical professionals. 

And for the medevac refugees still stuck in hotels over here, the government has given them three options.  

Either they can go back to their home country, go back to detention camps in Papa New Guinea or Nauru, or they can apply to be moved to another country, like the US. 

Going home would mean returning to the violence they fled, so some of these people are seriously considering going back to immigration facilities, where at least they might be able to walk outside. 

But there are organisations trying to help create other options for these people. 

Operation Not Forgotten is “a community-led response to provide private sponsorship to Canada for refugees who were detained on Manus Island and Nauru and have been left with no viable resettlement option”. 

The Takeaway 

What’s really frustrating for these populations – beyond the fractured system for getting medical treatment – is that settling in Australia, even temporarily, just isn’t an option. 

There is a lot that our government could be doing to help these incredibly vulnerable populations. But until any significant changes are made to the current system, hundreds of people are just stuck in indefinite hotel lockdown.