Darwin hotel refugees plea for community release as doctors lament ‘deteriorating health’ inside confinement

A refugee detained by the Australian Government is pleading for his and other refugee families to be temporarily released into the community after almost a year of confinement in a Darwin hotel room.

Iranian man Reza Golmohammadian and his family arrived on Christmas Island as asylum seekers in 2013 and have been held in detention ever since.

His family is now among a group of five refugee families that are being indefinitely detained in a complex adjacent to the Mercure Darwin Airport Resort by the Australian Border Force.

Mr Golmohammadian was flown to Darwin from Nauru in February last year for medical treatment.

But Mr Golmohammadian said the treatment he and other refugees had received had been inadequate — a claim backed by a group of predominantly Darwin-based medical professionals who yesterday wrote to the federal Home Affairs Minister calling for the refugees’ immediate release.

The letter, now signed by 51 medical professionals, said many of the refugees had received limited care and that it had not addressed their ongoing conditions.

“Additionally, there are multiple reports of inadequate living conditions and sanitation that contribute to deteriorating health,” the letter read.

The Federal Government has been accused of moving slowly on refugees’ medical treatment, and there are 15 refugees indefinitely detained by the Australian Government.

However, a spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said the refugees were “encouraged to finalise their medical treatment so they can continue on their resettlement pathway”.

After nearly 12 months living in a cramped hotel room, Mr Golmohammadian claims his family is succumbing to feelings of hopelessness.

“We have not received much medical attention and we have been locked up for too long,” he told ABC Radio Darwin.

“We are not really OK … nothing has changed for us. We are depressed and frustrated.

“We are not allowed to leave this place except for being escorted out by the security staff for medical appointments, which is not often.”

Mr Golmohammadian said he and his wife were being detained in a roughly 3×3-metre room with bunk beds.

He said health problems meant the couple were unable to climb into the bunk bed, so Mr Golmohammadian slept on the floor.

His two children, a man of 21 and a woman of 32, were detained together in what Mr Golmohammadian said was a similarly small room, with no privacy.

Mr Golmohammadian has joined the pleas of other refugees stuck in limbo who say they are being treated inhumanely and are effectively in prison without committing a crime.

Mr Golmohammadian — a legally recognised refugee — said he knew he would never be able to permanently settle in Australia.

He and his family were awaiting resettlement in a third country.

Abbas and handful of refugees with hands up asking to be freed from detention
Refugees left their cabins while a protest against their detention was held outside the Mercure hotel in January.(Sowaibah Hanifie, ABC News)

Mr Golmohammadian urged the Australian Government to grant his and the 14 other Darwin hotel refugees a semblance of freedom via temporary resettlement.

“We just want to be moved out of this detention and be given a flat or an apartment and [temporarily be allowed] in the community while waiting for our resettlement, which is already in process as genuine refugees,” he said.

“We are entitled to freedom of movement. This is a simple right which we even had in Nauru after getting our refugee status.”

Refugee advocates have labelled the Australian Government’s treatment of the 15 Darwin refugees as a “total breach of international law”.

They have also pointed out that indefinitely detaining them is inconsistent with past decisions to temporarily resettle other refugees brought to Australia on medical grounds.

“We need to remember that over the last few years, Australia has brought back over 1,000 people to Australia from Papua New Guinea and Nauru for medical treatment, and the vast majority of those people are living in the community,” said Graham Thom, Amnesty International Australia’s Refugee Coordinator.

“They have been living in the community for years. What’s totally unclear is why these 15 individuals have been stuck in detention. The Government could get them out of confinement tomorrow if they wanted to.”

Small cream and red cabins behind a wire fence are where the refugees are being detained at a location near darwin airport
The cabins where the refugees are detained is behind the Mercure Darwin Airport Resort.(Sowaibah Hanifie, ABC News)

In January, the Australian Government released dozens of refugees detained in a Melbourne hotel after more than a year in Australia.

Those refugees were brought to Australia for medical care under Australia’s medevac laws that had since been repealed.

“So why are these 15 individuals, these families, still being locked up? It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever even under the strange logic of the Government,” Mr Thom said.

“This is the sort of mental nastiness that just plays on the mind of these families.”

One of the refugees who was released in January from hotel detainment, Mostafa Azimitabar, said walking free was “the most beautiful moment of my life”.

The prospect of a release date for Mr Golmohammadian and his family remains at the discretion of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and the Department of Home Affairs.

A spokesperson from Home Affairs said the department would not be commenting on the case of Mr Golmohammadian’s family.

Thank you for dropping by My Local Pages and seeing this news release involving National and Australian Capital Territory News and updates titled “Darwin hotel refugees plea for community release as doctors lament ‘deteriorating health’ inside confinement”. This story was presented by My Local Pages as part of our Australian news services.

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Ogilvie High School students lament end of girls school set to merge with boys after 57 years

Hobart’s Eli Cropp is the product of Tasmania’s only public all-girls school and is now into her third year of studying medicine.

She believes the start she got at the single-sex Ogilvie High School set her up to succeed.

“One of the best things about my time at Ogilvie was, as a girl, I didn’t see any barriers to what women could become or go on to achieve,” she said.

“Girls could do physics, woodwork, football, without any social pressure.

“Ogilvie girls have gone on to become lawyers, politicians, Rhodes scholars.”

The Tasmanian Government’s announcement on Tuesday that Ogilvie would merge with all-boys New Town High School was greeted happily by some, but left others unconvinced about the merits.

“I hope this announcement doesn’t detract from a really proud legacy of educating girls,” Ms Cropp said.

Some students mourned the loss of single-sex classes.(Supplied: Ogilvie High School)

But Ogilvie High School principal Duncan Groves believed his students were up to the challenge.

“There’s going to be a mixed bag of emotions.

“You’ll get some people that will welcome the change and the opportunities that change will bring to the students but you will still have some members of the greater Hobart community that will mourn the loss of single-sex education in Hobart.”

Some of his students mourned the news.

“For me, it’s probably not something I’d really like because I feel really comfortable with all the girls,” one student told ABC Radio Hobart.

“I feel more positive with just the girls because at this age we kind of feel a bit nervous around the other gender,” another said.

The decision was given the thumbs up by many of the boys at New Town High.

“Sounds pretty exciting, bit of fun, new people and friends, a whole new environment,” said one.

“I think it’s really, really, really great. It mirrors society and needs to happen,” said another.

Hobart's Ogilvie High School
Hobart public girls’ school, Ogilvie High School.(ABC News)

The move will mean parents wanting single-sex education for their children will now have to turn to the private sector.

Parents vented misgivings about the move on the ABC Hobart Facebook page.

“Terrible decision. Some courses have been combined for years, but some students do NOT do well in co-ed high schools. Shame,” posted Keitha Granville.

“These two schools do so well academically and sports wise that there really seems no reason to do this,” wrote Meghan Buregel.

“Not everyone can afford private schools,” said Carol Chapman.

But others were supportive.

“They are best to get used to the way life will be outside of school,” said Elizabeth Hollis.

Single-sex schools no longer a positive for girls

Associate Professor in Education Judith Gill said the long-standing argument that girls were more suited to single-sex schooling had become redundant.

“However, there have been a great many changes in the way our society works and the way younger people understand their roles.”

The Adelaide academic said many girls today relished learning alongside boys.

“After all, we’re going to see them graduate into a world in which girls may be put in managerial positions and be in charge of males as well as females … so learning a bit more about the other seems to be something that too often in single-sex environments gets forgotten about.”

New Town High principal Dave Kilpatrick said single-sex classes were a possibility under the future model.

A balding man in a suit stands in the hallway of a school
Mr Kilpatrick says there will still be capacity for single-sex classes if deemed appropriate.(ABC News: Alexandra Alvaro)

“If it makes more sense for girls to be doing physical education on their own or boys doing physical education on their own, then that might be part of the design,” he said.

Announcing the decision, Tasmania’s Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said more than 90 per cent of the greater Hobart community consulted were in favour.

It would alleviate pressure on an oversubscribed Taroona High School, he said, and neutralise the need for a costly new inner-city high school.

A report commissioned by the Government outlined an increased push across Australia for boys to learn alongside girls.

It acknowledged all-girls schools were “still considered beneficial in terms of confidence and participation” but that the trend was “for parents to seek co-educational options for their boys”.

The report also detailed the notion of a “dream school” in which Ogilvie, New Town and Elizabeth College, in the city, would operate as one school with three campuses — one for grades 7 and 8, another for grades 9 and 10, and the current college campus to continue catering to years 11 and 12.

Exterior of New Town High School, Tasmania.
New Town High School will merge with the girls school.(Facebook: New Town High School)

The Government has allocated $150,000 in the 2020-21 State Budget for the development of a masterplan.

President of the Tasmanian Association of State School Organisations Jared Dickason said merging the schools, rather than building a new one, was the right move.

“At the end of the day, there’s only so much money that can be put into education and if we continue to put it into bricks and mortar, are we actually putting it into education?”

Caution urged in transition

Ogilvie High School was opened in 1937 as the New Town Commercial High School and taught both boys and girls.

Madeleine Ogilvie stands outside Parliament
The school was founded by MP Madeleine Ogilvie’s great-uncle.(ABC News: Brian Tegg)

In 1963 it became an all-girls school.

“The idea was to make sure that girls in the public sector had access to that single-sex education,” said Tasmanian independent MP Madeleine Ogilvie, whose great-uncle founded the school.

She said it should be a cautious transition.

“I think it’s really important we recognise there is a demand for education in Hobart that’s unmet,” she said.

“We’ve got Taroona full as a boot, we’ve got Mt Nelson Primary which has doubled in size … and I’m all for using existing assets.

“What we need to do is make sure there are no negative impacts on women’s education.”

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Former Melbourne Demons staff ‘lament’ call to overlook Lachie Neale

But for Prendergast, Melbourne’s recruiting chief at the time, the call not to select Neale is one of particular lament.

The Demons had two third-round picks (52 and 54) before the Dockers snaffled Neale. At pick 52 they went for medium-sized defender Josh Tynan from Gippsland Power. At pick 53, Hawthorn chose midfielder Alex Woodward. Two selections later Melbourne handed a second AFL life to versatile tall James Sellar, who had been delisted by Adelaide at the end of 2011 following 21 matches for the Crows in five seasons.

Richmond took Matthew Arnott at pick 55, Greater Western Sydney selected big man Tom Downie at pick 56, the Western Bulldogs chose mature-age and eventual premiership player Tory Dickson at 57 before Neale was selected at 58.

Prendergast said on Monday that Sellar hadn’t been a player of interest for the Demons until a few days before the draft, and that he had been keen to draft Neale.

“James Sellar wasn’t on our radar,” Prendergast said on Monday.

Prendergast was quoted at the time suggesting that ex-Crows coach Neil Craig and ex-Adelaide assistant Todd Viney, both working for Melbourne at the time, had both vouched for Sellar, having worked with him at the Crows.


Contacted on Monday, Neeld said he went back to his notes from a list management meeting just before the draft, suggesting that the consensus amongst the group was that the Dees should take a midfielder and a relatively experienced tall across those third-round selections.

“I’ve written down a summary. ‘We have two picks close together. The general feeling of the group is to draft a young mid and a mature-age key position player with those two picks,'” Neeld said.

While stressing that history was littered with these sorts of stories, Prendergast said the call to draft Sellar over Neale was regrettable. His recollection differs to that of Neeld, with Prendergast saying that several of the Dees’ recruiters would have taken Neale if not for Sellar, regardless of the tall-small mix.

“That’s one we do lament,” Prendergast said.

“If we weren’t picking Sellar, he was the one we definitely would have picked.

“We walked away really impressed with him. He was small without a lot of speed, but he could really play football.

“I think there would have been a lot of recruiting staff that would have liked Lachie Neale. It would have been the size, and it would have been the speed factor.”

Sellar would ultimately play 23 matches for the Dees before being delisted at the end of 2013. Tynan played two AFL games in 2012 before being delisted at the end of the following season. As it turned out, both outlasted Neeld who was sacked midway through his second season in charge.

Prendergast left Melbourne weeks after the 2011 draft to join Carlton. He has since worked for North Melbourne as well but is no longer in the AFL system.

After claiming two best and fairests with the Dockers, Neale was sensationally traded to Brisbane at the end of 2018 where he has only enhanced his reputation as one of the league’s best midfielders.

Former Adelaide recruiter Matt Rendell said on Open Mike last month that Neale was “the one that got away” from the Crows.

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Australians lament missed funerals amid coronavirus border restrictions

Damien Sparkes’s mother will be laid to rest today, but he won’t be there to say a final farewell.

Damien is one of thousands of stranded Australians who are missing out on burying their loved ones due to restrictions implemented in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Sparkes, who lives in Adelaide, last visited his mother in Victoria in June, but he had no idea he would never see her again.

Joan Sparkes died last week and her funeral is being held in the seaside town of Torquay today.

Mr Sparkes’s application for an exemption to attend the service in Victoria under compassionate grounds was denied.

He described having his exemption rejected as shattering.

“For all sorts of reasons it was devastating, I can’t think of a better word,” he said.

Adelaide man Damian Sparkes was denied permission to attend his mother’s funeral in Victoria and return home.(ABC News: Richard Davies)

Mr Sparkes was told he could go to Victoria but he wouldn’t be allowed to return home to South Australia.

He said he knows his situation is not unique but wishes more could be done.

“I certainly understand the need for public health and I understand the reasoning for stopping people crossing the border,” Mr Sparkes said.

“But I would argue I am a South Australian resident, I made my case clear, and I was quite prepared to self-isolate.”

Families blocked from saying goodbye

South Australia’s strict border restrictions have meant Cheryl Green was unable to say goodbye to her 19-year-old niece as she died in hospital.

A woman leaning over a horizontal tree branch
Cheryl Green cannot enter South Australia to attend her niece’s funeral.(Supplied)

Following a battle with leukemia, Adele Evans was admitted to an Adelaide hospital with pneumonia and was given just three days to live.

Ms Green, who lives in Nowra, in New South Wales, wanted to travel to South Australia to be by Adele’s bedside with her family when she died.

“Her specialist gave me permission to come over, to go into the hospital once I gown up and mask up to say goodbye to her,” Ms Green said.

But Ms Green learned because she lives in New South Wales she would have to isolate for 14 days following her arrival in Adelaide, and by that time she feared Adele would be dead.

She was right — Adele passed away on Sunday, and now her aunt will be unable to attend her funeral next week for the same reason.

Adele and Jess 1
Adele Evans (left) and her cousin, Jess.(Supplied: Cheryl Green)

She said it’s been devastating for her whole family.

“I can’t just go over and grieve for them, I can’t even go over there and hug my sister,” Ms Green said.

“This is a final goodbye, when COVID is all over and done with I can’t say goodbye again, it makes it very tough.”

‘It was shattering’: rule changes cause confusion

Melbourne-based actor Rob Mills lost his close friend Michael to cancer in July.

Before New South Wales closed its border to Victoria, Mills drove from Melbourne to Sydney with a friend to attend their mate’s funeral.

At this stage Victorians were still able to enter New South Wales without self-isolating.

Several days before the funeral, as precaution, the pair got a COVID-19 test when they arrived in Sydney.

But that decision backfired.

Rob Mills sitting in front of a piano
Actor Rob Mills lost a close friend to cancer in July, but was unable to attend the funeral.(Supplied)

Despite testing negative, Mills said he was contacted by New South Wales Health stating that a new restriction had been put in place ordering anyone who had entered from Victoria in the past 14 days to self-isolate.

“I got an email saying under no circumstance are you allowed to go the funeral, even if you are performing at the funeral,” he said.

“So my friend and I drove back to Melbourne. We cried a lot.”

Mills had only been home for a few hours when he woke to learn that New South Wales had backtracked on its decision about who needed to self-isolate.

It meant Mills would have been allowed to attend Michael’s funeral.

“I couldn’t quite get my head around that we had done all the right things, what if we had just stayed another day?” he said.

“It all puts things in perspective that I am alive and healthy and well and my friend is no longer here.”

Mills was able to live stream Michael’s funeral and watch it at home with his partner in Melbourne — something he is grateful for.

“Thankfully my friend is an exceptional human who has incredible humans around him who had organised a massive streaming service … but I would have loved to share those moments with my friends on stage or together,” Mills said.

“But that is 2020, I don’t know how else to describe it.”

State governments slow to respond

Susan McDonald, who lives in Grafton, New South Wales, was forced to miss her uncle’s funeral in Queensland last week.

She said when she received the news that the 80-year-old had died she was desperate to do whatever it took to attend the service.

“He was the only sort of father-figure I had after my dad passed away when I was 16,” Ms McDonald said.

She said she applied to travel under compassionate grounds so that she didn’t have to self-isolate on arrival, but didn’t hear back from the Queensland government until after the funeral was over.

“I was just really hurt, I just wanted to be there, it was horrible that I couldn’t go.”

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