‘Release us’: Asylum seekers fearful as COVID-19 spreads in Melbourne hotel outbreak

Mr Salah has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and his father is fully vaccinated. Still, they feel unsafe in the facility, with COVID-positive men in quarantine on the first floor of the hotel. 

“I get twice negative but we are not sure, maybe we can be positive if they don’t take us from here,” Mr Salah told SBS News.

“We need to be released into the community. This virus is very dangerous.”

Mustafa Salah was 14 years old (left) when he first entered immigration detention. He's now 23 (right).

Source: Supplied

“I’ve been in detention centre since I was 14. They destroy my life, I haven’t been schooling. I haven’t seen my mum for a long time,” he said.

“I’ve been through a lot of tough stuff and as [a teenager], no one should go through this.”

Mr Salah and his father Mr Mustafa said they’ve been holed up in their individual rooms at Park Hotel almost 24 hours each day, leaving only to use the washing machine.

The windows of the Park Hotel in Melbourne have been locked shut, with asylum seekers spending nearly 24 hours a day inside their rooms.

Source: Supplied

“Every day I call my son, maybe three, four, five times a day to see he’s okay,” Mr Mustafa said.

“I just want my future. I can work anything. I’m mechanical engineer, I cook Arabic foods,” he said.

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

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Fears have grown for men in immigration detention centres after it was revealed a man in Park Hotel was transported to hospital after testing positive. 

SBS News has confirmed the man who was sent to hospital with COVID-19 last week is Iranian asylum seeker Mohammad Sohrabi.

Mr Sohrabi spoke with SBS News over text on Sunday while in hospital.

“I don’t know what to say. [I’m] just trying to breathe,” he said.

Prior to testing positive, Mr Sohrabi – who is unvaccinated – said he had signed papers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine but had still not received one.

Iranian asylum seeker Hossein Latifi is worried about Mr Sohrabi and his other friends who have tested positive. He’s also concerned he’ll soon catch COVID-19 as the virus creeps through the hotel.

“Windows are closed here, we don’t get any fresh air,” Mr Latifi told SBS News.

“My friends in quarantine are waiting hours to get Panadol.”

Hussein Latifi has tested negative for COVID-19 twice but is worried about the contagious nature of the virus.

Source: Hussein Latifi

“What is the difference between me and other men who got released eight months ago?” Mr Latifi said.

“That’s the big question all of us are asking.”

In Senate estimates on Monday, Greens Senator Nick McKim asked this question of Justine Jones, acting first assistant secretary at the Department of Home Affairs. 

“The people in the APOD [Alternative Places of Detention] are unlawful non-citizens and they remain in detention for that purpose,” Ms Jones said.

“The vast majority – I think 43 of them – are transitory persons who were brought to Australia for a temporary purpose being medical treatment from a regional processing country,” she said.

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Mr McKim pointed out that several groups of men who were held in detention centres have been released into the community over the past year.

“There are plenty of transitory people who in the last 18 months have been released from immigration detention – some of them are my friends and I celebrated with them when they got out,” he said.

Ms Jones said decisions about where “transitory people” are placed “outside detention” – either in community detention or on final departure bridging visas – are made with ministerial intervention. 

She said ministers can request particular cases to “go outside” the departmental process and confirmed this is what occurred with groups of men who were released from detention earlier this year. 

Mr Latifi said he was sent to Australia to receive psychological help but he’s feeling distressed by the growing outbreak.

“For how long will they keep us here – until we die?” he said.

“Mentally we suffering. We broken. Enough is enough.”

SBS News has contacted the Australian Border Force for comment. 

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