Asylum seekers beg Australians: ‘Don’t forget us when Djokovic leaves’

Asylum seekers who have been detained for almost nine years by the Australian government fear that once Novak Djokovic is released from immigration detention, media spotlight on their plight will fade.


Amin Afravi, an Ahwazi Arab from Iran, has been detained by the Australian government for almost nine years. Source: Supplied

Somalian asylum seeker Ismail Hussein has spent more than two years detained at immigration detention facilities in Melbourne, including at Carlton's Park Hotel.

But in all his time there, he’s never seen so many protesters and news crews outside the hotel as he has in the past few days.

“No-one cares about us refugees but him, he’s a celebrity,” Mr Hussein told SBS News.

“He’s lucky, just a few days and he could get out and we've been here for nine years.”

The furore outside Park Hotel started on Thursday when news broke that world number one Novak Djokovic had been detained inside following a visa debacle.

The small number of refugee advocates gathered outside the hotel over the weekend were outnumbered by supporters of the tennis star and anti-vaccine protesters who yelled over cries to "free the refugees", "Djokovic, Djokovic".

The Serbian press has since described the immigration facility where 32 asylum seekers and refugees are detained as “the horror hotel”.

Djokovic’s mother Diana claimed her son has been kept “like a prisoner” in the hotel and said the hotel had "bugs", was "dirty" and described the food as "terrible.”

Protestors outside the Park Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne where it is believed Serbia Novak Djokovic is currently being detained, Australia, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. Djokovic had received the medical exemp
Protestors outside the Park Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton. Source: AP

But Mr Hussein said after almost nine years in detention, reports of maggot-infested food and mouldy bread served to detainees at the hotel was the least of his worries.

“All I care about is my freedom,” he told SBS News.

“I feel like I’m losing my mind here.”

Mr Hussein was 22 and in the middle of a business administration degree when his studies were interrupted due to escalating violence in Somalia.

He fled to Australia by boat in 2013 and spent six years detained on Manus Island before he was transferred to Melbourne in 2019 for medical treatment.

In the last few months, there has been a COVID-19 outbreak at Park Hotel and a fire that destroyed the facility's laundry and gym and that left one detainee hospitalised due to smoke inhalation.

Mr Hussein has been taking sleeping pills to cope with the stress and spending most of the time resting in his room.

“Everything is crazy here,” Mr Hussein said.

“We don’t have any freedom of movement ... there is no fresh air ... Sometimes I don’t leave my room for days.”

Protestors and fans of Serbia's Novak Djokovic outside the Park Hotel.
Protestors and fans of Serbia's Novak Djokovic outside the Park Hotel. Source: AAP

While Djokovic’s detention has brought international attention to the plight of asylum seekers in Park Hotel, those detained in other parts of the country feel forgotten.

Amin Afravi, an Ahwazi Arab from Iran, has been detained at Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (BITA) for more than two years after a medical transfer from Manus Island.

The 32-year-old, who left his home when his son was two, suffers flashbacks from when he was slashed in the neck during a riot in Papua New Guinea back in 2014.

“I got 16 stitches in my throat and my throat was open,” Mr Afravi said.

“The next day, the guards attacked us. I could see how they were smashing down refugees.”

Mr Afravi said he has lost weight due to stomach complications and also suffers from a skin condition. Source: Supplied

A day after Mr Afravi's throat was cut, Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati, 23, was who were working at the detention centre during the 2014 riots.

The men were sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing Mr Barati, whom they repeatedly hit with a piece of wood with a nail at the end of it before one of the men dropped a large rock on his head.

If he was to be released, Mr Afravi feels it would take some time for his mental and physical health to recover from his time in detention.

He currently suffers from psoriasis and stomach complications that have caused him to lose weight.

“It's gonna take six months for me to recover because my body is so weak that I cannot stand on my feet for like, probably 10 or 15 minutes,” he said.

“I have to rebuild my physical health, my mental health and then I can actually go ahead with my life again.”

SBS News has contacted the Department of Home Affairs and Australian Border Force (ABF) for comment.

Previously, an ABF spokesperson told SBS News that it does not comment on individual cases but healthcare for asylum seekers in immigration detention is “broadly comparable with those available within the Australian community under the Australian public health system”.

Mr Afravi often speaks up on behalf of other refugees and asylum seekers in immigration detention who have limited English or who feel they are mentally unable to do so themselves.

"My name Amin means saviour in Arabic," he said.

"I do everything I can to deserve that name."

Mr Afravi hopes Djokovic will use his powerful profile to advocate for refugees and asylum seekers detained by the Australian government both onshore and offshore.

“He’s a human being like me, I was really sad that he was in detention. He deserves to be free,” Mr Afravi said.

“I beg him to talk from his heart about what the Australian government has done to us innocent people for no reason.”

5 min read
Published 10 January 2022 at 8:06pm
By Eden Gillespie
Source: SBS News