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Commission concerned for detainees during COVID

Asylum Asylum Seekers and Refugees
Detainees look from behind steel fence

The Australian Human Rights Commission has repeated its call for people in Australian immigration detention facilities who do not pose a security risk to the community to be released to community detention.

In March 2020, the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID) and the Australian College of Infection Prevention and Control (ACIPC) warned that overcrowded conditions in detention centres potentially pose a risk to detainees, staff and the broader Australian community.

ASID and ACIPC recommended that people in immigration detention who don't pose a significant security risk be considered for immediate release into the community. 

The Commission supports these recommendations. Since March, the number of people in immigration detention has increased. 

“Infectious diseases experts have advised that those immigration detainees who do not pose a significant security or health risk should be released into housing in the community. The Commission supports this recommendation,” said Commission President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM.

“This is also the view of the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration (OIM) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow said the number of people in immigration detention facilities is a cause of concern, with cases of COVID-19 rising in the community.

“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,” said Edward Santow.

“The Commission has advised the Government since March that urgent steps need to be taken to reduce the number of people in immigration detention, and since then the number of people in immigration detention has increased.

“We are once again facing a rise in cases of COVID-19 in Australia. An outbreak in a detention facility could be catastrophic, given that infectious diseases can spread uncontrollably in closed spaces. In addition, many people in immigration detention have existing health vulnerabilities. So, we repeat our call for the Government to release people who do not pose a significant security risk into community detention.”