Refugees detained in Melbourne hotel ‘devastated’ as they await move to another site | Australian immigration and asylum

Refugees and asylum seekers detained at a Melbourne hotel for more than a year are said to be “devastated” and “confused” as they await their relocation to another as-yet undisclosed site.

About 60 men, who are detained at the Mantra hotel in Preston in Melbourne’s north, were told by the Australian border force on Monday they would soon be moved because the contract with the hotel was expiring. They received no further details.

The announcement dashed hopes that the men might be released into the community, after five asylum seekers were granted visas last week. The five, like the men at the Mantra hotel, were brought to Australia from Manus Island under the now-defunct medevac legislation.

As part of the Lives in Limbo series, Guardian Australia reported on Tuesday that the vast majority of the 192 refugees and asylum seekers who were evacuated to Australia for medical treatment are still being detained.

Alison Battisson, a lawyer who represents four of the men at the Mantra, said it was still unclear when the men would be moved, though she expected the relocation to take place on Tuesday or Wednesday.

In the meantime, advocates have formed a picket line outside the hotel, where they are expected to stay until the men are moved.

Battisson said her clients were “devastated” and “very disappointed” by the Border Force announcement on Monday, especially given some of their friends had been released last week.

Noeline Harendran, of Sydney West Legal, which also represents some people detained at the Mantra, said her clients were “anxious and really confused”.

A sign reading 'Mantra prison'
A protest sign outside the hotel. Photograph: James Ross/EPA

“They haven’t been able to have fresh air, sunlight, since the beginning of the year,” she said. “They can’t go for walks outside, things that people have taken for granted, they haven’t been able to do.”

The five people released last week, who were represented by Sydney West Legal, were granted visas days before the federal government was required to make submissions in their cases to the federal court.

Harendran said she was still hopeful the men at the Mantra would also be released into the community.

One refugee there, Mostafa “Moz” Azimitabar, said Border Force officials had provided few details on Monday. “They didn’t talk about [a] visa, they said there’s no visa or any other information,” he said.

“I said, ‘Where is the location?’ And they said they didn’t know. I said, ‘Is it Christmas Island?’ And they said no.”

On Monday the Department of Home Affairs said the men would be relocated to another site in Melbourne. It added that no one who had been under the regional processing regime would be settled in Australia.

Azimitabar said he and his fellow detainees were thankful to dozens of protesters who had rallied outside the hotel until 4am on Tuesday.

“They give us hope, always,” he said. “We are all sad, we are all depressed, upset. But when we see people protesting for us, we are hopeful. It helps us not to give up.”

Omar Hassan, from the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, said some of the detainees had been communicating with the protesters from their windows on Monday night.

“We were doing call-and-response chants … they were doing the classic symbol of resistance [crossing their arms above their heads],” Hassan said. “They keep shouting, ‘Thank you, thank you.’”

Dozens of protesters including refugee advocates and trade unionistswere again gathering at the site on Tuesday evening.

Another of the detainees, Ismail Hussein, 29, from Somalia, told Guardian Australia on Monday the conditions were “more difficult than what we experienced in Manus Island”.

“Maybe one hour of gym – that’s the only time that I am not in my room,” he said. “The rest of the day, I’m lying on my bed or sitting on the chair.”

The Department of Home Affairs was contacted for further comment.