While eyes are on tennis stars in quarantine, this refugee spends 14th month in hotel detention

Refugee, Mostafa Azimitabar (left) and world no.1 tennis player, Novak Djokovic (right). Source: Supplied/ Getty

As tennis players share their hotel confinement on social media, refugees like Mostafa Azimitabar have been detained in Australian hotels for over a year.

As the world watches tennis players grumble about hotel quarantine, Kurdish refugee, Mostafa Azimitabar, has been locked up in Melbourne hotels for over a year.

Ahead of the Australian Open, 72 tennis stars are in mandatory isolation after a fifth passenger tested positive onboard a flight to Melbourne.

But most players have struggled to find sympathy from the Australian public as they complain about everything from the quality of the food to the size of their rooms. 

Spanish tennis star, Roberto Bautista Agut, apologised after comparing hotel quarantine to "prison with wifi" in a leaked phone call.

While Australians are glued to these stories, the plight of asylum seekers has been forgotten, according to Moz.

“When people are in quarantine, they know that after two weeks they will be free and they know that the reason is because of COVID-19,” Moz said.

“The plight of refugees who were transferred for medical reasons is very different. We have been kept in detention indefinitely. We don’t know when we’re going to be free,” he added. 

Moz also said the food which tennis players have been served “is much better” than what refugees are fed. 

“They are also allowed to have partners stay with them. They don’t hear the sound of radios and there are not 100 officers walking around and entering their rooms,” he added.

Moz has been detained by the Australian government for more than eight years - first on Manus Island and later in Port Moresby.

Moz is a refugee who is detained at Park Hotel in Victoria

In October 2017, Australia withdrew all services to the initial refugee detention centre on Manus Island.

After 600 asylum seekers refused to leave, PNG police forcibly evicted and transferred them to three newer facilities in late November.

Moz said he remembers being attacked by PNG police and trying to source his own water to survive.

“They left us alone in detention. No food or water for 24 days. We had to survive by digging for water in the ground and boiling the water. We survived,” Moz said.

“PNG police attacked us on the 23 and 24th November. We got hurt, they beat us, but we are still alive,” he added.

PNG police later condemned the attack, claiming it was the result of unethical and unacceptable actions of drunken soldiers.

Suffering PTSD and asthma, Moz was transferred to Australia under the Medevac legislation in November 2019.

Moz is due to be resettled in the US as part of the US-Australian refugee deal, which was negotiated in 2016. Moz claims his future is unclear and he hasn’t been told when that will occur. 

Along with more than 60 men, Moz was transferred from Mantra Hotel to Park Hotel in December after the government’s lease of the hotel expired.

“In my room, when I look at the window, there is a cement wall. I feel claustrophobic,” Moz said.

Moz told The Feed that the hotel has tinted windows, meaning he can see protesters but they are unable to see him.

He also claimed one of the refugees at Park Hotel attempted to jump off the roof a few weeks ago and was subsequently transferred to Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation.

“Some of the people here harmed themselves when they on Manus and were transferred here for mental health issues,” Moz said.

“These people are human. It’s better not to look at them as detainees, refugees, asylum seekers, boat people. I don’t see any reason for these people to be kept in detention for eight years,” he added.

The Department of Home Affairs did not confirm the man’s suicide attempt when asked by The Feed.

A spokesperson said all asylum seekers "are able to access outdoor time during multiple different outdoor sessions each day" which enables basketball and soccer games, personal training sessions and general exercise.

They also claimed the men "have access to other recreational and educational activities, including arts and crafts, music, movies and computers."

Detainees inside the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne.
Detained refugees inside the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne.

A spokesperson said the government's policy "is clear that no one who attempts illegal maritime travel to Australia will be permanently settled here."


“Transitory people are encouraged to finalise their medical treatment in Australia so they can continue on their resettlement pathway to the United States, return to Nauru or PNG, or for those who are not refugees, return to their home country," they added.

As of December 31, the US-Australia refugee deal has resulted in the resettlement of 906 refugees (387 from Nauru, 411 from PNG and 108 from Australia) in the United States, according to the Department. 

Since the men were transferred from Mantra to Park Hotel, hordes of protesters have gathered outside, demanding asylum seekers be released.

Protesters are seen outside the Park Hotel in Carlton, Melbourne on 17 December, 2020.
Protesters are seen outside the Park Hotel in Carlton, Melbourne on 17 December, 2020.

These calls have grown louder since refugee Farhad Bandesh was freed from detention and given a temporary visa alongside five asylum seekers in December. 

The visas were granted following a major Federal Court ruling in September.

Moz hopes pressure from the Australian public will convince the government to release more men as they await relocation as part of the US-Australian refugee deal.

“I see people smiling at us, waving at us every day, and they give us hope. When we see them, we feel we are not alone,” he said.

“People care about us and I think sooner or later, we will get our freedom.” 

Since this story was published today, Moz and refugee advocates have reported 26 men at Park Hotel have been granted bridging visas. The Feed has contacted Home Affairs for confirmation.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (up to age 25). 

More information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue.