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Former detainee seeks compensation for unlawful detention

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The punitive, secretive and often opaque nature of Australia’s immigration detention system is in the national spotlight this month as former detainee Kurdish-Iranian refugee Mostafa ‘Moz’ Azimitabar seeks compensation from the Federal Government for what he alleges was unlawful detention.

Detained offshore in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and in Australia for almost eight years, Moz is seeking compensation in the Federal Court of Australia for the physical and emotional toll of his detention, particularly from the final 14 months of detention in two Melbourne based hotels. He is set to argue that his detention in the Mantra Hotel and Park Hotel was unlawful under the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) ‘as the government does not have the legislative power to turn such hotels into Alternative Places of Detention’ (APOD).

In an interview with Guardian Australia last year, Moz described how detention caused significant deterioration in his health and wellbeing:

‘It was really difficult, there were lots of officers around always … and I was under lots of stress…After 13 months locked in the Mantra prison without sunlight I was so sick they said they would take me to a better place. But that was a lie, the situation in the Park hotel was much worse…in the Park prison, there was a dark glass facing a cement wall, I felt I was in an invisible prison. I couldn’t see trees, or wave to people outside.’

Over the past two decades, those impacted by Australia’s draconian immigration detention system have faced significant challenges in sharing their story. Many fear that speaking out could affect their immigration status or the possibility of family reunification, while others worry they will be forced to return to detention.

Legal cases such as Moz’s — as well as activism through interviews, books and art — offer crucial opportunities for people with this lived experience to give voice to their trauma and to shine a spotlight on the opaque and secretive workings of immigration detention in Australia.

Countless reports, inquiries and research have shown the devastating physical and psychological toll that offshore processing and detention has had on those imprisoned at the hands of the federal government.


'Australians have witnessed successive federal governments introduce and maintain immigration policies, laws and rhetoric based on deterrence and dehumanisation.'


But these harsh, deterrence-based policies continue to receive bipartisan support under the politically-driven guise of ‘stopping the boats’, ‘saving lives at sea’ and ‘strengthening Australia’s border security’. Australians have witnessed successive federal governments introduce and maintain immigration policies, laws and rhetoric based on deterrence and dehumanisation.

Coinciding with Moz’s Federal Court case, this week also marks the nine-year anniversary of the hardline immigration policy banning resettlement in Australia for any person seeking asylum who came to Australia by boat, even if found to be a refugee with a well-founded fear of persecution. Since 19 July 2013, it is estimated that this settlement ban has affected just over 3,100 people seeking asylum — including children, unaccompanied minors and people with significant vulnerabilities.[1]

The Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA), co-convened by Jesuit Social Services and Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia, has long advocated for a significant overhaul of Australia’s immigration system to ensure people who seek asylum in Australia are treated with dignity and humanity.

CAPSA will continue to advocate to the federal government, the Opposition and cross-benchers about the urgent need to end the punitive approach toward people seeking asylum by abolishing temporary protection and ending offshore processing and prolonged and arbitrary detention.

We want to see an increase in Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) funding and expanded eligibility requirements to ensure that more people who seek asylum in Australia have access to adequate financial and service supports. CAPSA is currently calling on the government to facilitate enhanced access to family reunions for refugee and humanitarian entrants, including TPV/SHEV holders who have been denied family reunification for nearly 10 years.

It is impossible to adequately document the lifelong impact of Australia’s immigration detention system on the thousands of affected individuals in a way that properly acknowledges the complexity and depth of their traumatic experiences.

However, we can work to ensure that those affected have the opportunity to share their experiences, to have their trauma and their resilience acknowledged — to offer a ‘witness of what [they] have done and a testament of what [they] could be’.[2] In Moz telling his story, there is hope it will crystalise the suffering that Australia’s immigration detention system inflicts on refugees and help to spur the change so desperately needed.



CAPSA advocates the Federal Government, the Opposition and cross benchers about the urgent need to end the punitive approach toward people seeking asylum by abolishing temporary protection and ending offshore processing and prolonged and arbitrary detention.


[1] Kaldor Centre, Policy Brief: 'Cruel, costly and ineffective: The failure of offshore processing in Australia', p. 3.

[2]They cannot take the sky: Stories from detention, p. xii.



Maeve Elrington is the Coordinator of the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA).

Main image: Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre central open space. (Scott Fisher/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Maeve Elrington, CAPSA, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Immigration Detention



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Existing comments

Thank you Maeve for this report on an extremely important matter, and thanks to CAPSA for all its work with and for these people. Congratulations to Moz for fighting the inhuman Australian asylum seeker policies. His story and that of so many others is proof positive of the reality that Australians are a deeply fearful people. The fear has been detected and successfully manipulated by those who seek power. Thousands of lives attacked and billions of dollars spent to lull us into a sense of "safety". Thanks for telling and living the truth.

Susan Connelly | 04 August 2022  

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