explainer

Novak Djokovic has been in Australian detention for just days. His neighbours have been there 9 years.

Refugee advocates estimate about 33 men are currently being detained inside Park Hotel in Carlton, Melbourne.

The makeshift detention centre - once a COVID quarantine hotel - is the new temporary home of world tennis No.1 Novak Djokovic, who is facing possible deportation after being denied a visa to enter Australia on Thursday. 

By Thursday afternoon, supporters with Serbian flags and a media pack had joined regular refugee protestors outside the Victorian building. 

Watch: This video was shared by some of the men inside last year. Post continues after video.


Video via Twitter @MehdiAli98.

But while Djokovic's stay will likely only be fleeting, the other men behind those walls have been fighting for freedom for nine long years.

Their plight only remains in the headlines sporadically thanks to the Australian government's continued ironclad dedication to harsh immigration policies. 

Here are some of their stories. 

"I've served more time than rapists."

Cousins Mehdi Ali and Adnan Choopani are two of the men being held in the same hotel as Djokovic.

They arrived in Australia from Iran seeking sanctuary when they were 15 and 16. In their country, they faced systemic oppression as members of the Ahwazi Arab minority. 

On January 5, Mehdi tweeted, "I'm getting close to starting my tenth year in detention. This whole thing is absurd."

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When they first arrived as teenagers, the boys were sent to Christmas Island where they stayed for nine months. 

In 2014, they were transferred to Nauru and later that same year their claim for refugee protection was formally recognised because of a "well-founded fear of persecution" in their home country. But that didn't grant them freedom.

In 2019 they were brought to Australia under medevac laws and have ever since been transferred between onshore detention centres and guarded hotel rooms.

During their nearly 10 years in detention, they've been beaten, abused, and witnessed friends burn themselves to death. Adnan sewed his lips together in protest at his treatment for a time, and as Mehdi wrote in late 2021, "We can't hold it in anymore and we can't stand the torture. We are suffering so much. They're breaking our spirit and we can't do it anymore."

On Thursday, it was Mehdi's birthday. He turned 24. He received numerous calls asking him for comment about the Djokovic situation when his own is so much more dire.

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The cousins' only 'crime' is asking Australia for safety. And yet as Mehdi points out, he's served more time locked up than hardened criminals.

"I've served more time than rapists, but I've never committed a crime in my whole life... a murderer might probably be out on probation by now," he wrote on January 6.

"My life is a room."

Mohammad Joy Miah travelled to Australia from Bangladesh in 2013, and has been in detention ever since. 

From his Park Hotel room, Miah shares drawings of his pain and descriptions of his situation.

"All my life I am inside a room 24/7. My life is a room. Inside this room of melb in park prison. I try not to die I always fight for my freedom," he wrote on January 2.

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"I am not a criminal."

Mustafa Salah arrived in Australia from Iraq with his father Salah Mustafa at the age of 14. After being detained on Nauru for several years they were transferred to the mainland in 2019 under medevac legislation.

Mustafa is 23 now, and has been in detention for eight years, telling SBS last year, "They destroy my life, I haven't been schooling. I haven’t seen my mum for a long time."

The men are being held in separate Park Hotel rooms, and leave only to use the washing machine. 

Salah Mustafa is a mechanical engineer by trade. He just wants a future.

"I need stability for me or for my son, I am not a criminal. Enough."

Conditions inside Park Hotel.

Park Hotel retails for $104 a night online and calls itself a "luxurious 4.5-star hotel set in a prime location."

It was being used as hotel quarantine in 2020, and has since been turned into immigration detention. 

In October, the hotel experienced a COVID-19 outbreak, with half of the detainees and around 20 staff members falling ill. 

Refugees send messages to those gathered outside the hotel that Novak Djokovic has joined them in. Image: Getty/Recep Sakar/Anadolu Agency. 

In December, two fires broke out on the third and fourth floors. Mehdi shared on Twitter that as the fire raged, they were kept in the building. 

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"We are still stuck in the level one lobby. We have no access to fresh air and some of us are having health problems. There was a bathroom problem, and some guys had to relieve themselves in bottles. Some need to smoke and some need blankets," he wrote.

There has been evidence of maggots in food and as SBS reports, the site has been condemned by epidemiologists and architects for its poor ventilation. 

Adnan has told ITV he and fellow detainees have been receiving mouldy bread.

"We’re under guard 24/7 and the windows can’t be opened at any stage," he added.

"I can’t believe it, he’s [Djokovic] just on level one and we’re on level two." 

As Djokovic's situation gets worldwide media coverage, the plight of the Park Hotel refugees is also attracting widespread attention with headlines from the BBC like, "Djokovic stay highlights refugee concerns at Melbourne detention hotel," and "Djokovic's detention at Melbourne's Park Hotel draws renewed attention to Australia's 'detention hotels,'" from The Washington Post.

Here's how you can help refugees in Australian detention:

Feature Image: Getty/Recep Sakar/Anadolu Agency/nani Badreddine/Quality Sport Images/Mamamia.

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