Australia detains immigrants for an average of 689 days, a period 12 times longer than the US, Human Rights Watch says.
Tennis superstar and nine-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic still can't get over his brief seven-day detention in Australia in January.
"I did feel powerless. When I arrived I was not allowed to use my phone for three, four hours. It was the middle of the night from 1 am to 9 am. I didn't get any sleep because I was going through questioning every 30 minutes basically,” he said, reflecting on his days in Melbourne weeks after he was deported.
"I don't want to be sat here and complaining about conditions in that detention centre because I stayed seven days,” he said.
In Djokovic’s case, his visa was cancelled abruptly upon his arrival in Australia because of his vaccination status. His request for medical exemption from the vaccination was previously accepted by two independent Australian panels, yet the country cancelled the 34-year-old's visa fearing that his arrival could encourage anti-vaccine sentiment.
Dozens of migrants peered in from the windows as Djokovic walked through the notorious hotel-turned-detention centre, Park Hotel, and left within a week.
During this time, Djokovic's request for a personal chef was rejected, so the tennis superstar settled for gluten-free food.
The migrants have been complaining that the food served in the detention centre has maggots and mould. The very same food Djokovic was able to refuse to eat is still being served to the asylum seekers who are detained in the Park Hotel.
The other residents of the detention centre are 30 migrants who arrived in the country for very different reasons, in pursuit of a safe haven, and they remain there.
Djokovic is long gone, but as the world watched the tennis star’s detention process unfold a month ago, the migrants' immensely long detention plight drew some international attention.
In a new report that followed Djokovic’s detention, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Australia is holding people in immigration detention for an average of 689 days – a record number that is 12 times longer than the United States.
The United States and Canada, having similar migrant detention facilities, keep the migrants for 55 days and 14 days respectively, the human rights group said.
“It just shows how completely alone Australia is in the world, in terms of how absolutely horrific indefinite detention is, that there’s no end date,” HRW’s Australia researcher Sophie McNeill said.
“Other like-minded countries don’t do anything like us.”
Australian law requires the detention of all non-citizens who step on the country’s soil without a valid visa, but the detention period was originally designed to obtain basic information about health, identity, security, and basic information that supports the asylum seekers’ visa claim.
Human rights defenders, on the other hand, have been pointing out that the migrants' mandatory detention goes far beyond the time required to gather the basic information.
Some migrants, including children, have been detained for very long periods of time, amounting to years, despite not breaking any law other than not having a valid visa to enter the country. With the country's Migration Act 1958 determining no time limit on the detention of migrants, they have no foresight of how long after their detention they’ll be released, or if they ever will be released.
Ismail Hussein, a 30-year-old migrant from Somalia, feels that he’s been “rotting” in the same detention centre where the tennis player stayed. But Hussein’s detention was much longer, almost nine years.
“Since I was born, I haven’t seen peace in Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab kidnapped me and tortured me, they tried to force me to join them, that’s when I knew I had to run,” Hussein told the Sydney Morning Herald, speaking by phone from his room.
“I was just feeling sad that one person’s life who is only detained for a few days was more valuable than all of us that have been detained for almost 10 years,” Hussein said, remembering Djokovic's detention.
The 30-year-old migrant feels that the only good thing about the famous player’s detention is the attention he brought with him.
“He can have somewhere to go back to and they will welcome him with open arms,” he said. “If we go back, we will be welcomed by bullets.”