March 28th 2021.
This day is Magha Puja for Buddhists and First Night of Passover in Judaism. For Christians it is Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus entering Jerusalem knowing the danger of speaking truth to power.
It is a night of full moon.
On this night a group of women and men stand in silent solidarity outside the Park Hotel in Carlton. They have come to show support to refugees who are held in detention inside this place.
Here, in the moonlight where they hope to be seen, the protesters from below scan the wing of the building where the men are locked up. All they can see is dark glass. The windows are tinted.
Suddenly from high above, a few faint lights begin to move slowly back and forth in an arc. The refugees are waving, using their mobile phones. They know! There are protesters outside this place who will stand with them! My friend, Dorothy Scott, was there and wrote about the fragility of their hope.
Whose idea was it to tint the windows?
Who ordered it to be?
Who did this task so those in the street should not see?
One among countless acts of cruelty,
Oh, the banality of evil.
Faint lights moving back and forth,
Oh, the fragility of hope.
Novak Djokovic, world renowned tennis player, is briefly detained at the Park Hotel. Media crews capture the images and the stories. Though the Novak episode is brief it draws world attention to the Park Hotel.
Some of the journalists recognise the bigger story. They write of Australia’s precise cruelty to those who must flee in fear, without passport or visa. With meagre savings they can risk their lives on a fragile overcrowded boat. They will be immediately and indefinitely detained. In detention they can be assessed and found to be genuine refugees, but under no circumstances will they be permitted to ever settle in Australia. They will languish in indefinite detention.
Mobile phones gave journalists the opportunity to interview some of the ‘locked-up ones’ and receive images from them. Here are two among many.
Jamal left his homeland when his work with Western forces in Afghanistan drew Taliban attention. He came by boat. After five years of indefinite detention ‘offshore’ he was driven to such despair that he set himself on fire. Rushed to Australia for emergency medical attention, he has been locked up here ever since. Jamal’s message, now that he has a voice, is to the pro-refugee supporters standing outside the hotel day after day. ‘These people give me strength,’ he says. He looks into the camera and says emphatically that he chooses to live. The media has gained photos of his scarred back. This is not what Jamal wants to speak about. Drawn to talk of his detention he admits that this ‘hurts a lot’. The windows of his room don’t open, and he can only faintly hear the rain outside. He reflects that though he has committed no crime, even a criminal has a fair trial before being locked up. “Everything is at the whim of the minister.’ His last words are wistful. ‘I was young and now I am old’.
Mehdi and Adnan fled persecution in Iran when just fifteen-years old. In detention they have grown up together. They are cousins. They were transferred to the mainland in 2019 after traumatic years on Nauru. They have little education. Both have been approved for US resettlement based in the deal made with President Obama and ratified by President Trump. They are yet to hear when they will be leaving. In Mehdi’s mind, it’s still an “if”. He is 24 years old now, an articulate young man. “Everything is so uncertain, so random,’ he says.
I could tell of many others. They are invisible no more. Their stories are documented.
For a week the world witnessed this suffering. The tennis is over, the media attention has moved away.
And now? The fragility of hope.