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Australia: Calls for immediate action to manage COVID-19 risk to people in immigration detention


New report by the Australian Human Rights Commission calls for a reduction in the number of people in immigration detention to manage COVID-19 risks.

The Australian Government must act urgently to reduce the number of people in closed immigration detention in response to the ongoing risks posed by COVID-19, according to a new report by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The report, Management of COVID-19 risks in immigration detention, recommends new safety measures be introduced to protect people in immigration detention, and the wider community, from the risk of COVID-19. These include significant changes to enable all people held in immigration detention to practice physical distancing.

The report also finds that Christmas Island is unsuitable for ongoing immigration detention, especially in the current pandemic due to its remoteness and limited access to facilities and medical services on the Island.

"While the UK, Canada and the US have responded to COVID-19 risks by reducing the number of people in closed immigration detention, Australia's immigration detention population has increased," said Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow.

"Many people in immigration detention have pre-existing health conditions, which make them especially vulnerable to the risks posed by COVID-19. A COVID-19 outbreak in this environment, with such a high proportion of people vulnerable to COVID-19, has the potential to be catastrophic," he said.

The report finds that some facilities used for quarantine inside immigration detention are harsh and prison-like with no or very limited access to natural light, fresh air and outdoor space.

Further, some restrictions put in place to reduce COVID-19 risks, such as controlled movement policies and the use of quarantine in detention facilities, limit the human rights of people affected, without a proportionate public health benefit. Quarantine should be used only when necessary for health reasons.

The report makes 20 recommendations to protect the health of people in immigration detention who are significant risk of COVID-19, and to end measures that unnecessarily infringe their human rights.

The Department of Home Affairs has responded to the report's recommendations and the Department's response is published alongside the report.

Date: 16 June 2021

Source: The Australian Human Rights Commission

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  1. Australian Human Rights Commission