As the novel Coronavirus continues it’s deadly spread around the globe, refugees imprisoned in Australia’s detention centers fear the worst.
Many refugees have been trapped in Australia’s immigration detention program for many years. While many of them were released from the horrifying conditions in the offshore island centers like Manus and Nauru, they are still being subjected to inhumane treatment in various detention centers and “Alternative Points of Detention” (APODs) in Australia.
These APODS are typically hotels, where refugees are confined to only a few floors and have limited access to the outdoors. They are under the constant surveillance of guards and have virtually no personal freedoms. One refugee being detained in a hotel at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, says he has been sexually harassed by guards multiple times.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise, conditions in these detention centers are only worsening. There are reports of shortages of toilet paper, soap and hand sanitizer. Refugees report being denied medical services and long wait lists for treatment.
To top it all off, these detention centers are especially vulnerable to the spread of Coronavirus. There are 1,400 people in detention centers. Among those, many are at extremely high risk for serious illness. Many refugees in APODS such as the Brisbane hotel and Mantra Hotel were moved there specifically because they were in need of medical treatment. The cramped conditions of these centers make social distancing measures impossible to follow, and guards come and go without being tested. In some cases, up to six people share one tiny hotel room.
Professor Josh Davis, president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID,) says “It’s highly likely that if coronavirus is circulating in the community that it will be introduced sooner or later into one of these detention centers. And once that happens, it will spread like wildfire – as has happened in other closed environments like cruise ships.”
Despite these concerns, the Australian government has done nothing to help. Refugees and other Australians have begun protesting, holding signs that read ““Virus doesn’t check your visa status” and “I miss my wife and son – they are in the community”. Many are calling for those in detention centers to be released in the community to either stay with family already there or with a host family. Multitudes of Australians have made it clear that they would be more than willing to house refugees, yet the Australian government refuses to listen.
While some protest, others have sought legal action. One refugee has taken a case to Australia’s high court seeking release, as he is extremely high risk, having diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure, which all make him vulnerable to COVID-19.
These refugees concerns are not unfounded- The government’s own Department of Health identifies people held in detention as among those “most at risk” of contracting Covid-19. Many disease experts have called for a drastic reduction in refugees being held in detention. Many other countries around the world have heeded this advice, including including the UK, Belgium, the USA, and Spain. Yet, the Australian government refuses to take action.
One refugee is left to wonder, “What do the Australian government want from us? What is our crime?”