Asylum seekers fear further spread of COVID-19 after cases emerge in another Melbourne detention centre

Cases of coronavirus have been detected in a second immigration detention facility in Melbourne, as the Australian Border Force defends the COVID-19 policies in onshore immigration detention centres.

Protesters participate in a "Free The Refugees" rally at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre in Melbourne.

Protesters participate in a "Free The Refugees" rally at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre in June 2020. Source: AAP

Asylum seekers are nervously awaiting COVID-19 test results after four contracted service providers tested positive for coronavirus in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA).

One asylum seeker told SBS News he “doesn’t feel safe” after being told this week that the contractors had tested positive after working in the facility.

After waiting two days for test results, the asylum seeker received confirmation on Saturday that he had tested negative to the virus. Still, he is worried that he may be infected with COVID-19 in the coming days. 

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"Everyone is scared - not just me - because we have been locked down for many years and we know not to go anywhere," he said.

"We are very helpless... and we don't know what's going on."

The Asylum Seekers Resource Centre claimed on Friday that a detainee at MITA tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

SBS News has asked the Australian Border Force (ABF) for confirmation regarding the number of cases in MITA several times over the past week with no answer received on that question.



It comes after ABF confirmed on Saturday that almost half of the 46 asylum seekers in Melbourne’s Park Hotel - 22 men - have tested positive for COVID-19 and one man has been hospitalised.

As cases grow across detention centres in the state, Dr Carolyn Graydon, principal solicitor of ASRC’s Human Rights Law Program, called for the asylum seekers to be placed into isolation in the community.

“It is already intolerable that many people held in MITA and Park Hotel have been subjected to arbitrary, protracted detention for years,” said Dr Graydon

“But for them to still be detained and placed at unnecessary risk during a national pandemic, is unacceptable and now unfathomable given that the virus is now rapidly spreading in both centres.”

Dr Graydon said many people in detention are not fully vaccinated and have COVID-19 comorbidities, "making the virus particularly dangerous to them.”
Protesters have rallied outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne where asylum seekers are being held.
Protesters have rallied outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne where asylum seekers are being held. Source: AAP
Former MITA detainee and human rights intern at ASRC, Thanush Selvarasa said, “detention centres have never ever been safe (for asylum seekers against contracting) COVID-19.”

“Every day guards come in and out. It is not safe for people,” he said.

"People seeking asylum have for nine years been kept in detention and now they have COVID, we cannot have any more pain in our lives, we are tired.

"It is a human rights matter, people need to be immediately released into the community, as a human you cannot be kept in detention indefinitely."

In a statement to SBS News, ABF confirmed the workers had tested positive for the virus between 8 October and 28 October.



“The ABF and contracted service providers are working with the Victorian Public Health Unit to ensure a comprehensive response in accordance with Health guidelines and advice,” an ABF spokesperson said.

“All necessary contact tracing, quarantining, testing, and deep cleaning is being carried out.”

The ABF also defended its management of COVID-19 at Park Hotel after asylum seekers complained last week of waiting several hours for panadol and of staff shortages leading to COVID-positive men being treated by a single nurse. 

In a statement, the ABF claimed reports of restricted access to medical care and medicines are “inaccurate” and as were reports of men being “denied access to vaccinations or information about vaccines.” 

“No ambulance has been denied access to the Melbourne APOD [Alternative Place Of Detention],” they said.
Asylum seekers and refugees protesting their conditions at the Park Hotel in Melbourne.
Asylum seekers and refugees protesting their conditions at the Park Hotel in Melbourne. Source: Supplied by source
 
The government has not released a breakdown of current vaccination rates in Park Hotel and MITA but the ABF has said across the "immigration detention network", 64 per cent of asylum seekers have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination and 54 per cent are fully vaccinated. 

While asylum seekers in Park Hotel do not deny they have been offered vaccinations, some have taken issue with the management of the program.

Mohammad Sohrabi, an asylum seeker who is unvaccinated and currently battling COVID-19 in hospital, told SBS News he has signed papers to get a COVID jab but is yet to receive one after being transferred from Adelaide to Park Hotel two months ago.

While Ahmad Zahir Azizi, who is unvaccinated and tested positive for COVID-19 in Park Hotel, said he has not been provided with any information about the benefits of the COVID vaccine in-language.  

"I'm not a criminal. I'm from Afghanistan and Afghanistan is dangerous," he told SBS News.

"When I have freedom, I will have [the] vaccination."


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5 min read
Published 30 October 2021 at 3:56pm
By Eden Gillespie
Source: SBS News