“Can you hear that?” asks Mehdi Ali, an Iranian refugee whose laid-back demeanour belies his desperate situation. The loud chants of “Djokovic!” are for the man in an identical room a level below, on the first floor of a Melbourne hotel.
The world’s best male tennis player, Novak Djokovic, is sequestered at the Park Hotel until Monday, when a court will decide if he is to be deported or can play in the Australian Open. The Park has been designated as an “Alternative Place of Detention” by the Australian government, and holds an array of asylum seekers and refugees from around the world.
Djokovic’s family have been mocked for claiming the superstar’s ordeal is similar to the crucifixion of Jesus, and that he’s being treated like a “prisoner.” But, according to refugees and experts with experience of what is informally referred to as the “Park Hotel Prison,” those claims aren’t that wide of the mark. RT spoke to Ali and another former ‘guest,’ Farhad Bandesh, to get an idea of what life is like for those being held by the Australian government.
Bandesh is a softly-spoken 40-year-old Kurdish artist and musician, who left the Park Hotel last month and has painted a bleak picture of his time there. “The refugees in the hotel cannot go for a walk, they are surrounded by guards and are locked up,” he said. “There is no privacy, they check your room more than 10 times a day and try to annoy you with that sort of treatment… you have no basic human rights.” He arrived at ThePark following six years at Australia’s controversial Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island Papua, New Guinea – where he says he was beaten and insulted, before being transferred for medical reasons.
Ali, meanwhile, arrived in Australia via another processing centre on the island of Nauru, which he describes as “a cruel and savage place” where he saw other detainees burn themselves alive. Now 24, he has spent nine years in Australia’s immigration system, with The Park as his home for the past few months. It’s a challenging existence, where his only chance of seeing the sky is a communal roof area too small to walk about on.
He spends most of his time in his claustrophobic room with a window that doesn’t open and devoid of any home comforts, with only a bed and basic chairs, unable to leave the hotel other than for medical appointments, when he is escorted by guards. “You can hang out with the other guys, you can go to level four for a smoke… that’s pretty-much it,” he explained.