COVID 19 risks in immigration detention: calls for clarity re social distancing & hygiene guidelines

27th Mar 2020

Lawyers are calling on government to publicly explain how COVID-19 health guidelines are being followed in detention centres after several asylum seekers have expressed serious concerns about their safety.

“Australia has a non-delegable duty of care to people seeking asylum in Australia,” said Mr Andrew Christopoulos, National President, Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA). 

“The risk of an outbreak of COVID-19 in a detention centre is extremely serious. There are lots of people living in close confinement, and the infection rates on cruise ships has shown us how quickly this virus can spread amongst large groups of people.

“It is the responsibility of the government and the private contractors running the detention centres to ensure all detainees are kept safe.

“To reassure detainees, we are asking the government and their contractors to explain the steps they have put in place to ensure that social distancing and hygiene rules are being followed, and to explain how they are monitoring compliance. 

“We can’t see how it is possible to maintain appropriate social distancing in such crowded living arrangements, and to ensure appropriate distance between staff and detainees at all times. If that is the case, we are calling on the government to release detainees without the virus into the community.

 “The Commonwealth has a legal responsibility for all people in its custody and this pandemic poses a huge health threat to asylum seekers in detention.  

“We must remember that asylum seekers in immigration detention have committed no offence, and it is cruel to keep them locked up in close confinement when we are all being instructed to keep our distance from others.

“These conditions are not only a risk for detainees but also for staff and therefore the broader community.”

Tags: Asylum seekers and refugees COVID-19