Border Force defends handling of coronavirus risk as global report points finger at Australia's asylum seeker treatment

The Australian Border Force boss says all protocols have been followed after guards at immigration detention centres in Brisbane and Melbourne tested positive for COVID-19.

Asylum seekers at Kangaroo Point Cental Hotel in Brisbane on 13 June 2020.

Asylum seekers at Kangaroo Point Cental Hotel in Brisbane on 13 June 2020. Source: AAP

Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram has defended the management of coronavirus risk at immigration detention centres after two guards tested positive for COVID-19. 

On Sunday night, asylum seekers and refugees detained at a hotel Melbourne were informed a guard had tested positive to COVID-19. In March, a guard at a Brisbane hotel being used as a detention centre also tested positive. 

But Mr Outram said no further cases have been linked to the staff members, adding that in both cases, the infected guards had not been working in immigration detention facilities for between seven and 11 days prior to their positive diagnosis.

Mr Outram said the response has been "comprehensive and in line with state and federal health guidelines", adding that there had been "meticulous adherence to expert health advice".

A number of Serco security staff employed at Sydney's Villawood Immigration Detention Centre are now in self-quarantine, following their visit to the Crossroads Hotel in Sydney, which is at the centre of an outbreak. They have tested negative but must remain at home for two weeks. 

Mr Outram's comments come as a global report identified Australia as a country where refugee and asylum seekers have experienced "increased isolation or maltreatment due to lockdown measures", along with the UK and US. 

The Transnational Institute report finds COVID-19 "has led to an even greater erosion of the rights of those on the move, including the right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement".

In particular, researchers expressed concern about the resistance to releasing detained refugees and asylum seekers in confined spaces, the move to deport asylum seekers and a lack of access to health care.

Mr Outram said that measures were in place to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread for detained asylum seekers and refugees with the provision of additional soap and hand sanitizer for "all detainees". 

There has also been additional cleaning of communal areas and extra screening of new arrivals, while visits have been suspended to limit contact with those outside the facilities.

But a refugee at the Melbourne Mantra Hotel said they were concerned about their exposure to the infected guard, despite assurances that the guard had not worked the three days prior to developing symptoms, and contact tracing had not found any further cases.

"Everyone is panicking...ABF said they could not guarantee that we wouldn’t get infected, when I asked," Mostafa Azimitabar said on Monday.

Coronavirus protest at Villawood detention centre ended by riot police

He said only optional testing had been offered to the refugees in the Melbourne facility, but those taking the test would need to stay in solitary confinement until the test results came back.

Asylum seekers protest inside the Mantra Hotel in Preston, Melbourne.
Source: AAP

The Australian Human Rights Commission repeated its call for the release of refugees and asylum seekers who do not pose a security risk.

Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow said with community transmission rising, the risk of spread in immigration centres is a concern.

"As Human Rights Commissioner, I inspect Australia’s immigration detention facilities and in many of these places it is simply not possible to practise safe physical distancing, especially where people sleep," he said.

Earlier this week, the Australian Lawyers Association told SBS News the workplace regulator Comcare should intervene to ensure immigration facilities comply with COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies and health and safety laws. 

Published 17 July 2020 at 12:17pm
By Biwa Kwan
Source: SBS News