Numerous civil society organisations have issued calls for the release of immigration detainees in Australia, which took on new urgency after a private security guard at an ad hoc detention centre in a hotel in Brisbane tested positive for Covid-19 in mid-March.
On 23 March, asylum seekers in detention across Australia wrote an open letter to the prime minister pleading for their release into the community. The detainees wrote: “It is only a matter of time before it will breach our closed environment … we are sitting ducks for Covid-19 and are extremely exposed to becoming severely ill, with the possibility of death.” A Jordanian refugee detained in Villawood detention centre in Sydney reported that the crowded detention centre made it impossible to keep four square meters apart from one another and that there was a lack of soap and hand sanitiser available to detainees. Another detainee said the situation was similar at the Kangaroo Point Hotel in Brisbane. Although a guard at the hotel tested positive for Covid-19, none of the detainees were tested and the Australian border force told detainees that they “don’t have kits to test everyone.”
On 27 March 2020, the Home Affairs Department rejected calls to release detainees, claiming: “Infection control plans are in place and plans to manage suspected cases of COVID-19 have been developed and tested. Detainees displaying any COVID-19 symptoms may be quarantined and tested in line with advice from health officials and in accordance with the broader Commonwealth response.”
- B. Smee and B. Doherty, “Fears for Refugees after Guard at Brisbane Immigration Detention Centre Tests Positive for Coronavirus,” The Guardian, 19 March 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/mar/19/fears-for-refugees-as-guard-at-brisbane-immigration-detention-centre-tests-positive-for-coronavirus?mc_cid=f703c8e68b&mc_eid=ea525a4cee
- L. Knowles and J. Carter, “Asylum Seekers Plead to be Released from Detention Centres Amid Coronavirus Fears,” ABC, 25 March 2020, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-25/coronavirus-fears-asylum-seekers-plead-for-release-detention/12084604
- J. Blakkarly, “For a Detainee Inside an Australian Immigration Detention Centre, Covid-19 is Terrifying,” SBS News, 25 March 2020, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/for-a-detainee-inside-an-australian-immigration-detention-centre-covid-19-is-terrifying
- R. Holt and S. Vasefi, “We are Sitting Ducks for Covid-19: Asylum Seekers Write to PM After Detainees Tested in Immigration Detention,” The Guardian, 23 March 2020, www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/mar/24/we-are-sitting-ducks-for-covid-19-asylum-seekers-write-to-pm-after-detainee-tested-in-immigration-detention
- E. Al-Ghalib, “Home Affairs Rejects Calls to Release Immigration Detainees Fearful of Coronavirus,” SBS News, 27 March 2020, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/home-affairs-rejects-calls-to-release-immigration-detainees-fearful-of-coronavirus