Refugee Moz Azimitabar is taking the Australian Government to court over its detention regime

Mostafa (Moz) Azimitabar was detained offshore and in Australia for almost eight years. Now, Moz is taking the Government to court. To fight back in the face of such oppression takes great courage – and we stand with him.

Over the past 30 years, Amnesty has continued to monitor all forms of immigration detention – on mainland Australia and Christmas Island – as well as on Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG). We will continue to campaign tirelessly to challenge injustice and bring refugees and people seeking asylum to safety.

Australia’s offshore detention regime

Refugees in Australia’s care have been subjected to a cruel regime of indefinite detention. In 2013, the Rudd Government announced that no one arriving by boat would be resettled in Australia, even if they were recognised as a refugee. It declined New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees per year from offshore detention – an offer that has been on the table since 2013.

Australia takes in a very small portion of the world’s refugees. As of February 2022, 1,534 people who sought refuge in Australia were forcibly transferred to the detention facilities.

Thousands of refugees and people seeking asylum were trasnferred to Nauru and PNG, and kept in terrible conditions that caused untold psychological and physical torment. Here, they were detained for indefinite periods of time. 14 people have lost their lives as a result of Australia’s offshore detention policy.

Offshore processing has failed. The Government’s approach isolated and harmed people, rather than helping them. Beyond the reports of physical and sexual abuse, including of children; inadequate medical attention; suicides and attempted suicides; even a murder; the extinguishment of hope pushed people to the edge.

Refugee rights

Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right. Everyone has the right to life and liberty. Everyone has the right to freedom from fear. Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution.

Consecutive Australian Governments have attempted to expand the immigration detention regime, resulting in refugees being detained in conditions that amount to torture. The policies towards refugees and people seeking asylum have been consistently criticised by a number of United Nations (UN) Treaty Bodies.

The Australian Government has breached a number of laws and conventions, including:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – everyone has the right to seek asylum
  • The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) – protects the right to seek and enjoy asylum, a right afforded to children, men and women who have to flee persecution or other serious human rights violations
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – recognises the right to liberty and security of a person and prohibits arbitrary detention

Amnesty’s work and #GameOver

The rights of refugees and people seeking asylum has been an important area of work for Amnesty in which extensive research, reports and submissions have been published that deal with issues of mandatory and indefinite offshore detention centres.

In 2019, when Amnesty started the #GameOver campaign to establish precedents for safe, long-term and sustainable resettlement options for refugees, more than 600 people were still trapped offshore. Moz, as he has come to be known, was one of these people the Australian Government has treated so cruelly. Yet despite this torture and oppression he faced, he courageously continues to speak out.

Moz is a Kurdish refugee who fled his conflict-driven home out of fear for his life. Yet upon his arrival in Australia, he was sent to Manus Island where he was tortured and deprived of his fundamental human rights. He was Medevaced to Australia at the end of 2019 for urgent medical care and detained offshore for almost eight years. Amnesty supporters have stood with Moz and collectively called for change since the policy of offshore detention was implemented.

Where we are today

In March 2022, after nine long years, the Australian Government finally accepted New Zealand’s long-standing offer of resettling refugees trapped in limbo in Australia’s cruel offshore detention regime. The current deal will see 150 refugees per year for three years being resettled in New Zealand. This leaves a shortfall of approximately 500 people who will still require permanent resettlement solutions. The Government must commit to ensuring their safety.

Accepting the New Zealand offer is a small step to recovering Australia’s humanity by allowing refugees the opportunity to live in safety and restart their lives.

What are APODs?

Alternative Places of Detention (APODs) are a type of detention facility used in Australia. They include hotels that have been temporarily repurposed as places of detention. Many of those who were transferred to Australia from PNG and Nauru for urgent medical treatment were detained in APODs.

The use of APODs has meant refugees who were brought to Australia to receive urgent medical treatment have been forced to live out just another nightmare. Amnesty has received reports of people being locked in their rooms for up to 23 hours a day, for months on end, they’ve had nearly no access to the outside world, yet alone the proper medical treatment they were brought to Australia to receive.

Amnesty maintains that the use of APODs by the Australian Government is unlawful and a breach of Australia’s international human rights obligations. There is nothing ‘alternative’ to this form of detention. Many report conditions within APODs as far more restrictive than that of traditional detention centres.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ ‘Revised Guidelines on Detention’, APODs do not fall within the parameters of ‘alternatives to detention’ and they should only ever be used for “very short periods of time and under exceptional circumstances.”

Because people didn’t stop raising their voices, over the last year, we’ve seen approximately 200 refugees and people seeking asylum released into the community from APODs, along with the Australian Government accepting New Zealand’s resettlement deal.

However, no reasoning has ever been provided as to the length of detention nor timing of releases. While some were granted freedom, others remain detained, reinforcing the arbitrary nature of this type of detention. There is also currently no prohibition against the future use of APODs, and for refugees and people seeking asylum once detained in APODs and now living in the community, the conditions of their release are simply unacceptable.

Amnesty has made a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into the use of Alternative Places of Detention (APODs).

Moz’s court case explained

Kurdish-Iranian refugee, Mostafa (Moz) Azimitabar, who was detained offshore and in Australia for almost eight years, is taking legal action against the Australian Government seeking compensation for his alleged unlawful 15 month detention in what he calls ‘the prison hotels’ – the Government calls these APODs.

The hearing will take place over three days, from 19 to 20 July 2022.

The case before the Federal Court will argue that Moz’s detention in the Mantra Hotel and then the Park Hotel where he was transferred to for medical care was unlawful under the Migration Act, as the Government does not have the legislative power to turn such hotels into detention centres in this way.

Moz’s time locked up in hotels, where he was unable to go outside, exercise properly or even open a window, compounded by six years trapped on PNG, have taken a significant physical and emotional toll. This went on for eight long and painful years.

“The conditions in the Mantra and Parks [APOD] prisons were much worse than you can imagine. I didn’t get any sunlight inside the room for 23 hours. There was no tranquillity, everything was a headache.”

Moz’s story of horror and abuse is one of thousands. As war currently tears families apart around the world, refugees are looking to Australia in search of a better future. Instead, they are met with trauma, abuse, and some of the cruellest and most punitive policies anywhere in the world. They haven’t found safety on our shores; they’ve found relentless horror.

If successful, this case will create a national precedent and draw a line in the sand concerning the expansion of the detention regime in Australia. If the court rules in Moz’s favour, the same legal argument applies to anyone who has been or is currently detained in an APOD. While Moz couldn’t seek relief on behalf of others through this case, the Government would need to apply the consequences of the court’s decision more broadly.

We are standing with Moz. Amnesty is assisting with this case because APODs are even worse than immigration detention centres – and also because we believe the manner in which these cruel centres were established is illegal.

The verdict

On 6 July 2023, the Federal Court ruled against Moz in his case against the Australian Government. In a departure from the norms of judgments in the Federal Court, Justice Bernard Murphy emphasised that the lawfulness of Moz’s detention must not be confused with the morality of the practice.

Justice Murphy told the court: “Anyone who endured even two weeks of hotel quarantine during the covid-19 pandemic, would surely understand how difficult it must have been. As a matter of ordinary human decency, the applicant should not have been detained for such a period of time in those conditions.”

In the wake of the judgment, Mostafa (Moz) Azimitabar says:

“I wanted the Court’s decision to help put a stop to the immoral and unethical detention and treatment of people like me and many others who have come to Australia for protection but instead have suffered. I will not give up the fight for our human rights.”

Samantha Klintworth, Amnesty International National Director says: “Moz is among thousands of recognised refugees and people seeking asylum who have suffered under our government’s policy of spending billions of dollars to hold vulnerable people in immigration detention centres – here in Australia and offshore – for no purpose except to discourage them, and others, from exercising their right to seek refuge and safety here.”

How you can support

Amnesty is a movement of everyday people joining together to challenge injustice and defend human rights. For 60 years, we’ve been shining a light in the darkness to expose abuses, ensure accountability, change laws and improve lives.

By the end of 2025, Amnesty’s vision is to raise refugee and humanitarian intake numbers, increase community resettlement, secure the release of those incarcerated on- and off-shore and build safe pathways for refugees into Australia. Learn more about our refugee rights campaign work.

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