The Commission on Human Rights also urges the government to close the Christmas Island remote detention center.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has urged the government to reduce COVID-19 risks for immigration detainees by reducing the number of people detained in crowded facilities in a report released Wednesday which also called for the closure of its center. of Christmas Island detention, 2,600 kilometers (1,616 miles) northwest of Australia in the Indian Ocean.
The Human Rights Commission said that while the UK, Canada and the US have reduced the number of people detained in immigration detention – by 39 per cent, 66 per cent and 69 per cent respectively – in the first few years. six months after the pandemic, the numbers in Australia had increased by 12 per cent.
“The government should follow expert health advice and release people who present a low security risk in community housing,” said Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow.
“The Commission considers that the reopening of the North West Point detention facility on Christmas Island is not an appropriate solution to address an increasing number and overcrowding in other immigration detention facilities. The island is far away , isolated and lacking sophisticated health facilities, which poses even more risks during a pandemic. ”
The report came amid a public outcry over the treatment of the Murugappan family, who were brought to Christmas Island in 2018 after their asylum applications were rejected. The family, whose two daughters were born in Australia, is now be moved to “community detention” in Perth after the youngest, three-year-old Tharunicca, was medically evacuated to the city with a dangerous blood infection.
Australia has for years taken a harsh approach to people who have tried to travel to the country by boat, sending them to offshore detention facilities and telling them they will never live in Australia itself. The government has said it will reopen Christmas Island in 2019 after Parliament passed a law allowing those detained at sea to search emergency medical treatment in Australia.
The report said the centers were often cramped and crowded, with bunk beds in shared rooms and bathrooms, making the physical distance that slows the spread of COVID-19 impossible.
The commission also noted that many people in immigration detention had pre-existing health conditions that had also increased their vulnerability to the disease. He added that the Department of the Interior had said that as of September 28 last year, 247 people had been assessed as particularly vulnerable to coronavirus.
“A COVID-19 outbreak in this environment, with such a high proportion of people vulnerable to COVID-19, has the potential to be catastrophic,” Santow said.
The commission also questioned the use of two-week “operational quarantines” for detainees returning from outside meetings as doctor’s appointments, describing some conditions as “prison” and stressing that any measures limiting basic rights of the individual must be “reasonable, necessary and proportionate”.
The Advocacy Center for the Public Interest (PIAC), which made an official complaint on behalf of 14 detainees last year in relation to coronavirus risks, said it was “deeply disturbing” that the problems remained.
“The pandemic may ease, but we’ve seen how outbreaks in enclosed environments such as elderly care facilities it can be catastrophic and lead entire cities to the brink, ”Jane Leibowitz, the PIAC’s chief lawyer, said in a statement.
“The government owes a duty of care to the people it detains. Given the high risk of transmission in closed environments, we call on the Government to expedite the vaccination of persons in immigration detention, and urge them to act immediately to improve COVID security to protect detainees, staff and the wider community. ” .