Nineteen asylum seekers brought to Australia from Nauru and Manus Island for medical care have been forcibly removed from the the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel and Apartments in Brisbane, which was used for their long-term detention, supporters say.
It is understood they have been taken to the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre on the outskirts of the city, but it is unclear if the men will be held there long term or be moved to another centre or another state.
The men’s removal comes amid a bitter dispute involving the owners of the hotel, the lessor, and the sub-lessor, Serco, said Lou Menniti, whose family trusts own the hotel.
Serco helps run immigration detention sites for the federal government.
Menniti said his family had exerted its right to reclaim possession of the hotel precinct when he arrived with five security guards who “jumped through windows and over fences” to retake the property on Friday.
Protesters who arrived at the hotel after hearing about the disturbance said the men were all moved into one of the hotel’s three sections shortly before workers began dismantling security fences and taking down one of the large signs.
Dane De Leon, who has been involved in many protests at Kangaroo Point, said Border Force officers arrived, with Queensland police helping to control protesters.
She said there were dramatic scenes as two mini-vans took medevac detainees from the hotel to the Brisbane immigration detention centre.
“They were rough with the protesters, you know, it was quite painful,” she said.
Queensland police confirmed to Guardian Australia that a car window was smashed and a woman was issued an infringement notice for “obstructing police and a number of traffic offences”.
“A window of the vehicle was broken after the woman refused to exit … Officers may enter a vehicle in any way reasonably necessary to ensure no further offences are committed,” a spokesman for the police said.
“Approximately 50 protesters demanding the immediate release of the detainees attempted to block the passage of the buses carrying the detainees to another centre.”
Leon said many of the detainees were resisting being moved.
“There was so many cops,” she said. “The Serco guys and the cops were working together just trying to aggressively push the protesters off, telling us to go away.
“Some of the men were quiet and just looking at the ground. Some who were resisting were being held by Serco guards.”
A number of the protesters followed the vans to the Brisbane immigration detention centre, where video they captured showed men being carried into the facility by officers.
“They are still in uncertainty at the moment,” Leon said. “Some were told that they’re going to stay there, and some were told they’re going to go to Melbourne. So at the moment we don’t know where they’re taking them.”
The Department of Home Affairs and Border Force it would not comment on operational matters.
“Decisions about the most appropriate immigration detention accommodation are determined on a case-by-case basis, and involve consideration of the medical needs, and the safety and security of detainees, service providers, visitors and staff,” both agencies said in identical statements.
Serco has referred questions to its media team and Border Force.
There have been dozens of protests at the Kangaroo Point property in the past year when activists demanded all former offshore detainees be released.
In recent months the federal government has released many asylum seekers brought to Australia for medical care under the nation’s short-lived medevac laws. A group of 50 were allowed to leave the Kangaroo Point hotel in early March. But Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said the government refused to let the last 19 men go.
“We don’t want any more transfers between detention centres. Everyone should be released,” he said on Friday.
Leon said the remaining men had not been given a reason why they were still in detention.
Menniti said his family trusts had initiated legal action against the lessor of the Kangaroo Point hotel, alleging a series of breaches. Comment has been sought from the lessor.
In December the Morrison government began the staged release of asylum seekers brought to Australia under the medevac laws.
The Refugee Council of Australia said the government had never adequately explained why the long-term detention of asylum seekers brought here for medical care was warranted.