It's not too late to release refugees over COVID concerns

In the light of news that at least one guard has tested positive, NSWCCL is renewing its calls for refugees to be released from detention immediately.

Last week news broke that a guard at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA),  had tested positive for COVID-19 — the Delta variant.  MITA is one of the larger detention centres for asylum seekers and non-citizens who have had their visas cancelled under the character test provisions of the Migration Act.  

So far, it seems, the virus has not got loose amongst the detainees.  But that is a pure matter of luck.  While he was positive, the guard’s duties kept him away from the detainees.  And he does not seem to have passed it on to other guards.  

If it had got loose inside MITA, or any other detention centre — in Villawood for example — it would likely have spread rapidly, and deaths would have surely resulted.  For those centres are so crowded that social distancing is impossible.  Detainees sleep together in rooms with two-tiered bunks, or in dormitories, for example, where they have at most four square metres of space each.   

Asylum seekers at the Melbourne Park Hotel, an 'alternative place of detention' reported that Border Force officials had said a second guard had caught the disease.  The detainees  are particularly anxious, because some guards work in both places, and wear their masks incorrectly or not at all; and there is even less opportunity for social distancing there.  

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties, along with numerous other organisations, has warned successive ministers for home affairs and for immigration that the immigration detention centres were likely to become super-spreaders if the COVID-19 virus got in. Given that guards move between the centres and the community outside, that was always likely. Villawood Detention Centre, after all, is in the midst of the Canterbury-Bankstown Council area, a hotspot of great concern. We repeatedly urged the Government to release all asylum seeker detainees into the community, and to reduce the number of visa cancellations on character grounds — many of those cancellations being unconscionable in any case.

We remain particularly concerned because many of the asylum seeker detainees have co-morbidities, often as a result of their experiences in their countries of origin.  We also remain concerned about the alternative places of detention — hotels used for detaining refugees and others as overflow places, where there is even less opportunity for detainees to be apart from each other.    

There's still time for the government to release refugees before tragedy strikes.

More information