Religious heads demand detainees' release

Dozens of refugees and asylum seekers remain at the hotel where Novak Djokovic was held this month.
Dozens of refugees and asylum seekers remain at the hotel where Novak Djokovic was held this month.

Australia's religious leaders have called for the release of asylum seekers in detention following the Novak Djokovic controversy.

The star tennis player, who arrived to compete in the Australian Open, was detained by immigration authorities in Melbourne's Park Hotel and deported a fortnight ago after failing to meet the country's vaccination requirements for international visitors.

But dozens of refugees and asylum seekers remain at the hotel, including detainees flown to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru for urgent medical care under now-defunct medevac laws.

About 50 religious leaders and organisations have called on the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to meet Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and agree to release detainees.

The movement's spokesman, Reverend Tim Costello, noted Scott Morrison was a man of faith and said Australian would feel better about embracing a kinder approach to border politics.

"There is currently no legislated end to indefinite detention, the refugees have been sacrificial lambs to the politics of border control and immigration for many years," he said on Friday.

"The prime minister and opposition leader have the power to set them free. It is a question of whether they will open their hearts and act, not a question of what to do," Sister Brigid Arthur, co-ordinator of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project, said.

Chair of the Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria Jasbir Singh said detainees had lost years of their lives because of Australia's policies.

The religious leaders have launched the campaign at St. Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne, including releasing a short film by director Richard Keddie that highlights the stories of refugees in detention, including those in the Park Hotel.

There was a COVID-19 outbreak at the hotel last October, with at least 22 of the 46 refugees and asylum seekers testing positive.

Late last year, two fires broke out on the third and fourth floors, with one person hospitalised and a staff member assaulted.

Refugee advocates estimate about 32 male detainees are still being held in the hotel.

Australian Associated Press