Mehdi Ali is running out of words.
A detainee at Melbourne’s Park Hotel, Mr Ali arrived in Australia from Iran by boat in 2013 when he was only 15 years old.
Even though he has been formally recognised as a refugee, Mr Ali – now 24 – has spent the past nine years in a “cage”.
And while he has actively spoken up for years for his rights and for the rights of other refugees who find themselves in a similar situation in Australia, in a recent interview with SBS News he had little to say, except, “I’m desperate … I am a human being who’s been caged for nine years.”
Mr Ali’s comments come as leading legal and human rights organisations in Australia joined forces and called on the Australian government to immediately end the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and refugees in the country.
“Australia is a global outlier in its cruel and degrading treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Locking people up indefinitely is inhumane, unnecessary and tantamount to torture. It must stop,” Lucy Geddes, senior solicitor at Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said in a joint statement released on Friday morning.
The statement comes on the final day to make a submission on the Ending Indefinite and Arbitrary Immigration Detention Bill 2021, which is being considered by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre supports the bill along with other legal and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International Australia, the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW Sydney, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Refugee Advice & Casework Service and National Justice Project.
More than 1,500 people are currently detained in Australian immigration detention facilities and the average period a person spends in onshore immigration detention is 689 days, compared with about 55 days in the United States and 14 days in Canada.
“Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum is a national shame. Indefinitely locking people up has a devastating impact on their mental and physical health and is tearing families apart,” Asylum Seeker Resource Centre senior solicitor Rachel Saravanamuthu said in the statement.
Madeline Gleeson, senior research fellow at the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, said in the statement that Australia has assumed obligations under international law not to deprive people of liberty arbitrarily.
“Unfortunately, our domestic law does not reflect that position, meaning few remedies are available to those subjected to such treatment,” she said.
Refugee Advice & Casework Service has also called upon the government to “bring an end to this dehumanising and manifestly unjust policy”.
George Newhouse, director and principal solicitor at National Justice Project, added his voice to the statement.
“Our Government knows they have a legal and moral duty to asylum seekers and refugees, yet instead of offering protection and care, they have slowly and painfully drained their mental and physical health, their hopes and their dreams. Enough is enough. It must stop,” Mr Newhouse said.
The statement comes just days after world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic was detained at Melbourne’s Park Hotel after his visa was cancelled by the Australian government for not being vaccinated.
The Serbian tennis star could not play at the Australian Open and had to leave the country.
While the incident drew global attention and put Australia’s immigration and detention system under scrutiny, Mr Ali said little has changed for the refugees who continue to be detained in Australia.
“Sometimes I feel I can get out of here and [on those days] I get some sleep,” he told SBS News.
“But some days I feel like I am never going to get out of here. And I get low, really low … that I can’t even sleep,” he said.