The federal government is not taking the necessary measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission to inmates and staff of its immigration detention facilities.
The UN warns that the virus is likely to rage through places of detention. The Department of Health says on its website that people in detention are among those most at risk of getting the virus.
The US and the UK have released some inmates, even NSW passed a law last week to release prisoners nearing the end of their sentence in order to reduce the risk of transmission.
The Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases and the Australian College of Infection Prevention and Control said that those in immigration detention cannot maintain social distancing and isolation measures that the Prime Minister is urging.
The scenario is that a staff member will transmit the virus to an inmate. It will spread quickly among inmates and staff. When the staff leave, they will transmit it through the community.
The government is obliged to comply with the Work Health and Safety Act regarding immigration detention facilities. It is required to pro-actively and preventatively ensure that the health and safety of detainees and workers is not put at risk by a detention centre's design or operations. Under section 27, the decision-makers involved (the Commissioner of Australian Border Force and its Chief Medical Officer) are to advise the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) and minister Peter Dutton of the risks posed by COVID-19 to inmates and staff, as well as ways to lessen that risk. It appears the DIBP is not taking even elementary steps to reduce risk, such as supplying soap, masks, and ensuring its staff observe distancing precautions.
What you need to know now:
Medevaced asylum seekers have been told to apply in writing for soap to the Australian Border Force, which will respond in 14 days. These people have been locked up for nine months and have not had medical treatment.
What happens if they get infected?
We note that asylum seekers and refugees who have been held in some instances for more than seven years, have not been found to be criminals. Even those held in these centres for failing the Visa Character Test because of prior misdemeanors have served their sentences.
For the health of the nation as well as the health of those in immigration detention, Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy urges the government to abide by its WHS obligations and move people out of detention into community settings as quickly as possible.
Niko Leka, Convenor, Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy
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