Refugees in Detention: COVID-19 FAQs

How many people are currently being held in detention centres in Australia?

There are approximately  1,400 people being held within detention facilities across Australia and around 200 people held in Alternative Places of Detention (APODs).

In this case the APODs in question are small hotel rooms currently being used to detain about 120 people in a hotel at Kangaroo Point (Brisbane) and 60 people in the Preston Mantra Hotel (Melbourne). 

How is the ASRC helping people in detention?

The ASRC is currently supporting over 300 people through our Detention Rights Advocacy Program and another 50 people living in detention through our Human Rights Law Program (HRLP). 

Since early April, the ASRC has been calling for the release of people from immigration detention due to the threat to their safety because of COVID-19.


  • held online rally with over a thousand people calling for release
  • met with MPs directly
  • hundreds of people calling Minister Tudge to add their voice calling for freedom in detention
  • supported community groups across the country to take actions

For the past 15 years, the ASRC’s Human Rights Law Program (HRLP) and Detention Rights Advocacy Programs (DRAP) have provided legal assistance and advocacy to refugees and people seeking asylum held in immigration detention in Australia. 

This includes assisting those held in the closed immigration detention network, namely 

  • the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA), 
  • Villawood Detention Centre, Darwin Detention Centre, 
  • Yongah Hill Detention Centre, 
  • Perth Immigration Detention Centre 
  • and the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (BITA). 

It also includes assisting those held in Alternative Places of Detention, (APODs) including in hotel accommodation, such as at the Manta Hotel (Preston, Melbourne) and Kangaroo Point (Brisbane). 

What are the conditions like in the detention centres?

The Government’s policy has been to continue detaining people in immigration detention, despite detention centres being officially identified as high risk COVID-19 settings and the lack of risks to the community of releasing many detainees, especially people seeking asylum. There has been only a trickle of people released from immigration detention since the COVID-19 outbreak, however these releases have not been connected to managing risks of COVID-19.

Since April, Human rights organisations and medical colleges have repeatedly called for the immediate release of people from detention due to the fear of an outbreak and as a public health measure. Other comparable countries have taken proactive steps and released some detainees as a preventative measure to reduce the risks of infection and spread of the virus in detention centres. 

Risk reduction measures taken by the Government have been inadequate throughout the entire COVID-19 period to date. 

Given the close conditions within centres and APODs (Alternative Places of Detention) and the high numbers of rotating staff, the risk of infection entering detention centres and then spreading through detention facilities, has remained very high.

Have any extra measures been taken to protect  people in detention during COVID-19?

While the Department has tried to ‘thin out’ the population density in each centre by moving people within centres and between centres within the same state, this has not been a sufficient measure to ensure minimum social distancing standards are maintained.

This makes it impossible for detainees to maintain social distancing standards within closed centres and within APODS. 

In some APODs, people are forced to live two to three to a room, eat in communal areas and are in their bedroom for 23 hours a day. In closed detention centres, most detainees are in rooms with others, some in rooms with up to six people.

Conditions in detention are crowded with 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.

What is happening with the recent  confirmed COVID-19 cases in detention?

Two staff members working in APODs (Alternative Places of Detention) managed by the Department of Home Affairs have so far tested positive for COVID-19, one at Kangaroo Point (Brisbane) in March and another on July 8 at the Mantra (Melbourne).

It has also been reported that Villawood Detention Centre staff are in isolation after attending a party at a Sydney pub that has since been identified as a coronavirus hotspot.

People at detention centres are left feeling scared. They are forced to share crowded rooms where it is impossible to socially distance and left unable to open their windows so there is little sunlight and no fresh air. It’s immoral, unsafe and irresponsible.

The response from Australian Border Force is still limited to once-off deep cleaning despite record second wave cases in Victoria.

When people test positive for COVID-19 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.

Are people transferred here from Manus/Nauru receiving appropriate medical care?

Most people are still waiting for the medical care that they desperately need. Out of the 95 people who arrived in Australia between 31 August – 31 December 2019, 73 people are still undergoing medical investigations or awaiting further treatment.

Source: Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Additional Estimates, 2 March 2020.

What is the medical recommendation regarding Covid19 and detention?

A number of medical bodies have released statements calling for the release of people from immigration detention due to public health fears, including 

How do I take action?

Call Minister Alan Tudge MP to ask for the immediate release of people from detention facilities.

Follow people in detention such as Moz (@AzimiMoz) and Farhad (@FarhadBandesh) to hear directly from those detained.

July 19th marks seven years since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that people seeking asylum, arriving by boat, will never be settled in Australia and would be processed offshore. To find out how to take action on this anniversary click here.

Other resources

  • ASRC submission opposing proposed legislation to ban mobile phones in detention facilities
  • ASRC submission into the Government’s response to Covid19 including concerns with those in detention facilities