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    Federal Court orders Minister to stop detaining elderly man at Melbourne detention centre due to COVID-19 risk to his life

    Federal Court orders Minister to stop detaining elderly man at Melbourne detention centre due to COVID-19 risk to his life

    10 August 2020

    Earlier today, the Federal Court of Australia ordered the Minister for Home Affairs to cease detaining a 68-year-old man with multiple health conditions at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA), to guard against the serious risk of COVID-19 infection.

    This is the first significant Court decision addressing the Commonwealth’s duty of care to people in Australia’s immigration detention network at high risk of COVID-19.

    Justice Murphy heard an urgent interlocutory application on behalf of the 68-year-old man last Friday.

    The Court received expert evidence from leading infectious disease experts in Victoria that group detention settings were unsafe for those at high risk of COVID-19, in spite of precautions that might be taken.

    Justice Murphy ordered the Minister to advise the man’s lawyers 24 hours before any further steps were taken.

    Prior to his abrupt detention in late 2019, the man had lived peacefully in the Australian community for nearly a decade with his Australian citizen son and grandchildren.

    His family eagerly await his return to the home, so that he is able to practice ‘social distancing’ measures like every other resident of the State.

    The sole reason for the man’s detention was an adverse ‘security assessment,’ made on the basis of allegation relating to his former overseas business, and dating back nearly 15 years.

    An independent review of the assessment recommended that it be reconsidered by ASIO at the earliest opportunity.

    Human Rights Law organisations call on the Minister to comply with the Court’s decision and take all available steps to comply with their duty of care to vulnerable detainees at risk of COVID-19.

    Sanmati Verma, Senior Lawyer at Clothier Anderson Immigration Lawyers is representing the man and said:
    “The Court’s decision makes it clear the Commonwealth is unable to ensure the safety of vulnerable people such as our client in detention.”

    “There is a clear solution to the situation, which has been implemented in the US, UK and Europe, but not in Australia – which is to release vulnerable people into the community, where they can be safe.”

    Principal Lawyer and Manager of Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s Human Rights Law Program, Carolyn Graydon said:
    “There are people seeking asylum at high risk of Covid-19 held in closed centres right across the country who also face unacceptable levels of risk of contracting Covid-19, as the Federal Court has found in this case.”

    “It is time for the Department to accept that the only responsible way to release the pressure of Covid-19 risks in our detention centres, is to release people at high risk into the community.”

    “That way they can take self-protective measures which they cannot while they remain held in a communal detention environment.

    Legal Director at Human Rights Law Centre, David Burke said:
    “Medical experts have warned for months about the risks of COVID-19 in immigration detention in Australia. Detention facilities around the country are creating unacceptable health risks for the people held there, the staff, and the broader community.”

    “The Morrison Government failed to listen to experts and reduce the number of people held in detention. Today the Court has recognised the seriousness of this risk and ordered the Government to act.”

    “It’s time to urgently move people out of unsafe detention centres and into the community where they can safely socially distance.”


    Access to Court Order documents and additional images and video of lack of public health measures at MITA detention centre

    For interviews please contact:

    Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Sen Lawyer Sanmati Verma: Marcella Brassett 0411 026 142

    Human Rights Law Centre: Michelle Bennett 0419 100 519

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