Lower public health standards in detention centres under federal jurisdiction will cause a COVID19 outbreak among high risk people.
13 July 2020
The Federal Government must work with the medical community and human rights organisations to release high-risk people from detention so they can lock down with family or friends and manage their own adherence to local State Government pandemic measures.
Two staff members working in Department of Home Affairs managed Alternative Places of Detention (APODs) have so far tested positive for COVID19, 1 in Kangaroo Point, Brisbane in March and another on July 8th in the Mantra APOD in Melbourne.
The response from ABF is still limited to once-off deep cleaning despite record second wave cases in Victoria.
When people test positive for COVID19 in schools, public housing buildings or businesses, State Governments are able to enforce containment standards such as wide testing, quarantines and hard lockdowns.
Yet detention facilities are excluded from these critical public health measures, presumably because they are under the federal jurisdiction of Home Affairs.
The Federal Government continues to detain approximately 1400 people in 9 detention centres and various APODs in crowded, unventilated spaces where they cannot observe physical distancing from each other or the 60-70 guards and service staff they are exposed to on daily rotation.
There are no transparent protocols for physical distancing or PPE for staff and no wide testing or quarantine after a confirmed case.
ABF responded to the latest confirmed case by taking all people detained at the Mantra to a noisy place so they could not film, and telling them a staff member working for a company that services the elevators had tested positive for COVID19, but had not been to work in a week.
They provided minimal information and told people to wash their hands and physically distance, even though this is physically impossible in their living conditions.
People were also told they could get tested now if they chose to, where previously people could not access voluntary testing, and tests were only offered to people who showed symptoms.
The ASRC supports 300 people in detention in our detention advocacy program and 40 cases in our legal team.
ASRC caseworkers and lawyers alongside the medical community have raised concerns with the Government since March that an outbreak is imminent due to lower standards of public health measures nor independent medical oversight into detention management.
Human rights activist detained at the Mantra APOD, Mustafa Azimi said: “The staff made us feel humiliated by telling us to wash our hands and practise distancing when we have no control over close contact with staff coming and going.”
“How can they say this when the staff don’t practise physical distancing and we are kept in crowded, narrow places. We cannot even open windows, there is little sunlight and no fresh air and we cannot physically distance from each other.”
“They have no plan to keep us safe from COVID19. ABF don’t care about our lives.”
“I am sure I will be infected by a staff member soon and I will die because I have asthma, many of us are already sick and many of us are at risk of dying,”
ASRC director of advocacy and campaigns, Jana Favero said: “When businesses or schools have had people test positive to COVID19, wide testing, lockdown and quarantine measures are urgently put in place to prevent outbreaks spreading.”
“Somehow in detention centres there are different public health standards to the rest of the community and it is pure luck that there has not been an outbreak as of yet.”
“It’s the Federal Government’s responsibility to keep people safe during this health crisis, including refugees in detention. People must be released for their health and safety.”
“We want to work with the Government to find a solution such as immediate wide testing and release.”
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