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Nine years in Australia's immigration detention regime, Mehdi Ali is battling suicidal thoughts

Iranian refugee Mehdi Ali speaks out against Australia’s brutal immigration system
Iranian refugee Mehdi Ali speaks out against Australia’s brutal immigration system, 21 January 2022

Mehdi Ali was only 15 when he made the dangerous journey to Australia by boat in 2013, fleeing persecution in Iran, as members of the Ahwazi Arab minority.

"Since then, for nine years now, I've been detained under cruel circumstances in offshore and onshore detention centres," said Mehdi.

Marking yet another year of languishing in Australia's brutal immigration system, the Iranian refugee spent his 24th birthday last week at the Park Hotel in Melbourne, which houses 30 more asylum seekers, indefinitely detained by the Australian government, a practice forbidden under international law.

However, it was not until the world's best unvaccinated tennis player was detained at the same hotel that the world's media attention finally focused and criticised the abysmal conditions people were forced to live in by the Australian government.

The Serbian tennis star, Novak Djokovic, was stripped of his visa by border control agents who said he did not meet Covid-19 entry requirements, before being sent to Park Hotel, where his parents have called the accommodation "terrible" and claim their son is being treated like a prisoner.

"It's not fair, it's not human," Novak Djokovic's mother complained. "His accommodation is terrible. It's just some small immigration hotel, if it is a hotel at all; with bugs, it's all dirty, the food is terrible."

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Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, said his government had asked that the athlete be moved from the "infamous hotel". Djokovic was released after four days.

Meanwhile, Mehdi, detained for nine years, still does not know for how much longer he will be held or where he might go next.

"It's disappointing that it took a famous celebrity to be put in the same position as us, refugees, for the world to finally take notice. People are only finding out about us now because the media hasn't done such a great job over the last nine years," noted Mehdi.

But I really do hope now that the media is paying attention, that it won't be a temporary wave, especially the media in Australia. I really hope that the media will stand up to the government and I hope Djokovic himself is going to speak about us because he has a big platform.

He described how he spends most of the day trying to "kill the time in strict confinement" by reading books or playing music or sleeping. He said he has just one window to view the little he can of life outside and as the thing "barring me from freedom".

Guardian Australian reported that, of the 3,127 who sought asylum in Australia between 2013 and December 2014, all were sent offshore, and more than half remained in detention as of December 2020.

Their detention has also cost Australian taxpayers over A$13 billion ($9.35 billion).

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Despite Mehdi's claims for protection being formally recognised more than half a decade ago in 2014 while he was detained in Nauru, the Pacific island where hundreds of asylum seekers trying to enter Australia have been held in grim detention camps, he was moved into the Park Hotel.

The move came two months after he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from the abuse and mistreatment he was both a victim and witness of at Nauru, dubbed "island prisons."

He has watched friends burn themselves to death, as well as being beaten and abused, jailed without reason.

"I suffer serious mental health issues; we all are," said Mehdi. "The quality of food is really bad and each person has his own room with no access to fresh air, we can't handle it. We've run out of methods of survival. We're suffering from trauma, PTSD and even dealing with suicidal thoughts."

"I regret coming here. I want to leave. Sometimes, I wish I had died in the ocean."

Refugee advocates regularly protest outside the hotel, mostly in small numbers and unnoticed by passers-by.

However, athlete Djokovic's sudden arrival has energised the protesters as they seek to draw global attention to the asylum-seekers and their treatment in Australia.

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Refugee activists, including Mehdi, have been quick to capitalise on the media attention as he documents the hotel's harsh conditions and ongoing struggles with the Australian immigration system on social media.

It is a form of protest, he stated, with a request that the international community does the same, until the status of their indefinite detention is changed.

"Raise our voices by talking about us and sharing our stories. Talk to your local MP, and pray for us. Don't let this die out," he added.

Until then, his, and the 30 other refugees, wait for freedom continues.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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