Refugees fear COVID threat in Australian immigration detention

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Melbourne, Australia – Campaigners in Australia are urging the federal government to launch asylum seekers held in immigration detention after not less than one COVID-19 case was formally confirmed at a facility in Melbourne.

Melbourne, Australia’s second largest metropolis, is at present in its sixth lockdown amid a coronavirus outbreak pushed by the extremely infectious Delta variant.

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On Saturday, the entire state of Victoria reported 450 new instances. On Friday, not less than 299 of the 334 instances reported had been from Melbourne and surrounding areas.

Multiple campaigners and asylum seekers have informed Al Jazeera not less than two guards have examined optimistic and dozens extra had been presumed to be in quarantine as a result of they’d not reported for work in latest days.

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The Australian Border Force (ABF), nonetheless, says just one employees member has been confirmed to have the illness. The particular person is a contracted service supplier on the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) Broadmeadows Residential Precinct (BRP), and “does not have contact with detainees as part of their role,” the ABF informed Al Jazeera.

Bunk beds are crammed right into a room in Avon compound, considered one of a number of amenities maintained by the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) authority [Refugee Action Coalition]

A MITA detainee, chatting with Al Jazeera on situation of anonymity, expressed fears for his or her well being and security, saying that as many as 5 individuals had been living collectively in some rooms within the facility, which is split into a number of totally different areas.

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The models within the BRP, which have as much as 4 bedrooms hooked up to a small kitchenette, are pretty spacious. By distinction the rooms in Avon, one other compound, home as much as six individuals on bunk beds.

He says whereas the ABF has supplied detainees with masks and sanitiser, it has not carried out widespread testing for the virus.

“They don’t test us for COVID unless we show symptoms,” the detainee stated. “This means they would not actually know if it is spreading until a lot of people are sick. It could travel fast. Guards are free to come and go.”

COVID hotspot

The non-public agency, which supplies employees to the detention facility referred Al Jazeera’s inquiries to the ABF.

The Border Force stated the well being and security of detainees and employees was a precedence and that it had labored with the state well being division on “stringent” COVID-19 safety measures for the reason that begin of the pandemic.

“It is untrue that infection prevention measures have been lax or minimal within immigration detention facilities,” the ABF stated.

Prisons and detention centres world wide have change into infamous as hotspots for COVID-19 an infection with some nations releasing a few of these held to scale back the danger of an infection.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has described COVID-19 as a “serious threat” for the 1,492 individuals held in Australia’s immigration detention community.

In a report in June, the fee stated the federal government ought to place those that “present a low security risk in community-based alternatives to closed detention”.

It additionally stated authorities ought to enhance bodily distancing on the detention amenities and provides particular consideration to the handfuls recognized as notably weak to the illness on account of underlying well being circumstances.

‘They have not committed any crime’

Some 239 persons are being held in MITA, in what campaigners have described as “crowded” circumstances.

The Commission added that most of the asylum seekers housed there have well being points,

A supply inside the power informed Al Jazeera solely half the individuals in his compound had acquired a primary dose of a vaccine – all up to now week. There are about 60 individuals in his a part of the power, he stated.

Sadaf Ismail, Detention Rights Advocacy Program Manager on the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, who has purchasers inside MITA, says asylum seekers must be launched instantly as a result of social distancing was unattainable inside the power.

Detainees “are in close proximity with each other… how would it be possible for them to provide that isolation?” she stated.

Given the dangers, the federal government should launch all asylum seekers altogether, she added.

“They have not committed any crime,” she stated.

Advocates for asylum seekers say an infection prevention measures at immigration detention amenities have been ineffective all through the pandemic.

“I’m told now we may see guards wearing masks [and]… they occasionally wear gloves but that’s not been routine,” stated Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), who’s in contact with individuals inside numerous immigration detention amenities.

The ABF, nonetheless, stated the allegations of lax or minimal measures inside immigration detention had been “untrue”. It stated the ABF and the Department of Home Affairs had “adopted stringent infection control plans and measures in line with relevant health advice”.

“To date, no detainee has tested positive to COVID-19 in the Immigration Detention Network,” it added with out elaborating on the dimensions of the testing programme or what number of had been examined.

The vaccination marketing campaign for asylum seekers started in August, whereas Australian residents started receiving vaccines in February.

The MITA detainee stated the rollout on the Melbourne facility started solely final week.

“Given the lack of goodwill, overall secrecy and hostile behaviour of the Immigration Department, it is terrifying to have to trust them,” he stated.

“We are trapped right here and know that they don’t care a lot about our welfare…

“Isolation facilities in detention are really basic, like jail… if we were free, we could choose our own independent doctors and could talk through our fears.”

Years of mistrust have left the refugees and asylum seekers detained at MITA anxious and sceptical.

The risk of coronavirus has made the scenario worse.

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