Australia's draconian refugee detention policy has been criticised by the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (Asid), the Australian College of Infection Prevention and Control (ACIPC) and Doctors for Refugees which have all said detainees need to be released from held detention urgently to prevent rapid Covid-19 transmission. 1,400 asylum seekers and other non-citizens were being held in detention in crowded conditions that would preclude adequate social distancing or self-isolation. Staff would also be at risk from an outbreak. The centre’s are drastically medically under-resourced. There are not enough doctors, nurses or resources to tend to should an outbreak occur.
“Keeping people unnecessarily locked up in close confinement at this time when the rest of the country is being urged to stay in their own four square metres is not only cruel, callous and highly discriminatory, it is potentially exacerbating a public health crisis,” said Dr Barri Phatarfod, co-founder of Doctors for Refugees.
The Australian government’s own advisory says “people in detention facilities” are considered most at risk of serious infection of Covid-19. Visits to immigration detention centres – including by family members – have been cancelled.
Doctors said there were almost no infection controls inside detention centres, where toilet paper, soap and hand sanitiser are running short, and those in detention have to queue in close proximity for meals and other services. People are still being detained in shared and bunk rooms, with up to four people in a room in some detention centres.Asylum seekers and refugees said they were “anxious and scared” of a Covid-19 outbreak inside detention, saying they were being held “in a potential death trap in which we have no option or means to protect ourselves”. They say it is impossible for them to self-isolate and protect themselves from the virus.
“We are sitting ducks for Covid-19 and extremely exposed to becoming severely ill, with the possibility of death.”
A public petition from Human Rights for All calling for the immediate release of asylum seekers and refugees in detention has attracted nearly 20,000 signatures.
“Families across Australia are struggling with the ramifications of Covid-19,” director-principal Alison Battisson said. “The families of people in detention are no different. We ask that these families are allowed to bring their loved ones home to see out the pandemic. These people have safe and caring home environments willing to support them, either with a family member or advocate in Australia.In the UK, the Home Office has released more than 300 people from detention because of the Covid-19 pandemic.