A looming threat: Covid-19 in immigration detention

Last Updated on 29/04/2020 by National Justice Project

During this time of emergency the NJP is proud to be part of an industry chorus, alongside the Human Rights Law Centre, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Refugee Legal, the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) and Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, calling for refugees to be afforded the same level of consideration as the rest of our vulnerable people in Australia during the fight again Covid-19.

Last week the Human Rights Law Centre filed their first legal challenge relating to Covid-19 in the High Court. Their challenge is against Minister Peter Dutton and the Department of Home Affairs, on behalf of a refugee in immigration detention who seeks release based on fear of contracting Covid-19.

George Newhouse the CEO of the National Justice Project and Adjunct Professor of Law at Macquarie University said in the HRLC media release on the matter:

“Peter Dutton must take his responsibilities seriously. Covid-19 spreads quickly in enclosed spaces so the Minister must take every opportunity to release all immigration detainees that do not pose a threat to the community – especially those who may be vulnerable to the virus. The Government must listen to experts who have made it clear that the conditions in these centres would allow for the rapid spread of COVID-19 and put lives at risk.”

Lawyers for the man will argue that Minister Dutton and the Government are breaching their duty of care to him by failing to provide conditions that allow him to protect himself from COVID-19. His lawyers will seek orders that the Minister not detain the man in conditions where he cannot practice physical distancing. His current living conditions include sharing a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. The man has a number of underlying health issues including asthma, a heart condition and diabetes that place him at increased risk of severe illness or death if he contracts COVID-19. The Australian Government medically transferred the man, who is a refugee, from Manus Island to Australia for treatment in early 2019.

There are almost 1,400 people who remain in immigration detention. They are often eating in crowded food halls, sharing bathrooms and can be sleeping in rooms with more than six people. Infectious diseases experts have called for people to be released, warning that detention centres risk spreading COVID-19 like cruise ships. The United Nations and World Health Organisation also recommended the release of people in detention where ever possible.