Asylum seekers protest on roof of Sydney's Villawood detention centre over fears of coronavirus spread

Five detainees at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney have started a protest on the rooftop of the facility, urging their release amid concerns about the potential for coronavirus to spread in close confines.

Asylum seekers at Sydney's Villawood detention centre have climbed onto the facility's roof to call for their release amid fears about the spread of COVID-19.

Asylum seekers at Sydney's Villawood detention centre have climbed onto the facility's roof to call for their release amid fears about the spread of COVID-19. Source: SBS

Five detainees at Sydney's Villawood Immigration Detention Centre concerned about the spread of coronavirus have begun camping out on the roof of the facility, holding banners urging their release.

"Free us from detention COVID-19 2020," one banner read. "We are humans too," read another. 

Detainees inside the centre say the protesters plan to stay there for days.

A group of 35 asylum seekers and refugees at the centre say they have been refusing all food and water for five days as part of a hunger strike.

Ghader Mohammed, an Iranian man who has been in detention for seven years, said it has been impossible to maintain the required 1.5-metre social distancing rules in the close confines of the centre. 

"The situation here is absolute chaos," he told SBS News.  

Last month, one staff member at an immigration detention centre in Brisbane - although the Australian Border Force says exposure was limited as the individual had not worked in nearly a fortnight before testing positive. 

Visits by family members have been cancelled as part of precautionary measures taken by the ABF.

But Mr Mohammad said he is concerned not enough is being done to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

"They [the staff] are coming in and out without gloves, without masks. And we are worried about this."

He said up to six people are housed in one room, making compliance with the social distancing requirements a real challenge. 

"If you're talking about the gathering, which is [restricted] at no more than two people, we are here more than 35 people in one place and we nearly hugging each other."

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Australian Border Force said "no detainees in immigration detention have tested positive to COVID-19", adding that hygiene and quarantine protocols were in place.

"Infection control plans are in place and plans to manage suspected cases of COVID-19 have been developed and tested," the spokesperson said.

"The ABF, and service providers, remain focussed on the health and safety of all detainees and staff during this time. We continue to follow the advice of the Department of Health and other health officials."

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has to governments to reduce the number of people in prisons and detention centres to ensure coronavirus does not spread.

“Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis,” she said.

Earlier this week, hundreds of criminal justice experts co-signed a and immediately release detainees in jails and detention centres to prevent deaths among particularly vulnerable groups, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at .

3 min read
Published 11 April 2020 at 6:05pm
By Biwa Kwan, Essam Al-Ghalib
Source: SBS