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Asylum seeker in Mantra Hotel coronavirus protest 'forcibly removed' and placed in detention centre

Farhad Bandesh, and other refugees protesting in the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne. Source: Supplied

A Kurdish asylum seeker says he was 'forcibly removed' from the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne and taken to a detention centre for taking part in protests calling for better conditions amid coronavirus.

Farhad Bandesh spent six years in detention on Manus Island before he was transferred to Australia in 2019 for physical and mental health treatment, as part of the government’s Medevac Bill.

The artist and musician was among dozens of asylum seekers and refugees being detained at the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne, which is considered an Alternative Place of Detention (APOD) by the Australian Border Force.

In late March, detainees at the hotel began protesting their crowded conditions and what they said was a lack of personal hygiene supplies, such as hand sanitiser, amid fears of the possible spread of coronavirus.

Mr Bandesh was removed from the hotel last week and sent to the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA), and he said it was due to the protests.

He told SBS Kurdish that representatives from the Australian Border Force and Serco, the security company overwatching detainees at the hotel, had warned him a month ago to stop the protests that had been ongoing for several weeks.

"ABF and a Serco manager told me a month ago [to] stop the peaceful protest. I told them 'you can tell everyone to stop it, but all I know I have the right to protest for my freedom'," Mr Bandesh said.

Their initial protest in March received significant media attention and Mr Bandesh appeared on the ABC’s QandA program in April where he expressed his concerns for the mental health of all asylum seekers.

He said the authorities weren't pleased about that appearance: "I was on the media and they were not happy [for me] to show what is happening in the Mantra Hotel with this pandemic."

Regarding his removal from the hotel on April 23, he said he wasn't offered a formal warning to leave and only given 15 minutes to pack up his clothes – leaving his painting equipment behind.

At MITA, he said the rooms are smaller compared with the hotel and he shares his with another detainee, although they're allowed to get fresh air.

Around 65 asylum seekers are held on the third floor of the Mantra Hotel and most have been there for over eight months.

Refugees and asylum seeker in Melbourne's Mantra "alternative place of detention (APOD)" hotel.
Refugees and asylum seekers in Melbourne's Mantra Hotel.
SBS News

They have not been allowed to leave that floor of the hotel since coronavirus social distancing rules were enforced, Mr Bandesh said.

When asked about Mr Bandesh’s removal, the Department of Home Affairs said: "The Department does not comment on individual cases".

Amnesty International Australia has called on the government to provide answers on Mr Bandesh's removal

“Farhad has been a vocal advocate for the rights of the refugees and asylum seekers detained in the Mantra and we’re seeking assurances from Home Affairs that he was not removed in this manner as punishment for advocating for his basic human rights,” Amnesty International Australia Refugee Coordinator Dr Graham Thom said.

“There are solutions readily available to safely house people in the community which the Government has no logical argument to further delay. It’s especially confusing that someone would be removed to the MITA when this community accommodation is accessible right now."