The Federal Government’s announcement about legislation to extend search powers in immigration detention is a shameless attempt to distract attention from its failure to address the acute health risk to hundreds of people being needlessly detained, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) says.
“The Federal Government has responded to weeks of public concern about its failure to act on expert health advice about overcrowding in immigration detention with a classic political tactic of distraction and dog-whistling,” RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said.
“Eight weeks ago, the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases and the Australian College of Infection Prevention and Control wrote to the Government to draw attention to the need to move people out of crowded detention centres to protect them and the Australian public from the spread of COVID-19.
“Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton still have not acted on this advice and more than 1370 people remained crowded into 10 centres around Australia, sharing bedrooms and bathrooms against the clear advice of health experts.
“Rather than address this compelling need, Mr Tudge is trying to shift attention elsewhere, trying to paint people in detention as a threat, to avoid attention on the locking up of hundreds of people who pose no risk to the community.
“No reasonable person would advocate for the availability of weapons or contraband in detention centres. In fact, the Australian Border Force already has complete control over the facilities, restricting everything that comes into centres, from contraband to home-baked goods. The suggestion that they need more control is laughable.
“The greatest threat which is not being managed is the inability of people in detention to protect themselves from the risk of COVID-19 being brought in by one or more of the hundreds of staff who come into each of the 10 centres every week.
“Despite numerous attempts by health professionals to draw attention to these risks and confidential offers from non-government organisations in different states to assist with moving people who pose no risk into the community, Ministers Tudge and Dutton have not acted.”
Singapore has experienced a spike in COVID-19 infections because of overcrowding in migrant worker hostels and in Thailand at least 65 people in the Songkhla immigration detention centre have tested positive for the virus. RCOA has repeatedly warned of the imminent danger of a similar situation in Australian facilities, unless people are allowed to safely distance in the community.
“The Australian Government continues to take away people’s freedom and dignity with no external scrutiny of decisions to detain someone or keep them in detention,” Mr Power said. “The 1370 people in detention include dozens of people who have been recognised as refugees whilst in PNG and Nauru. Their detention is a direct contravention of the Refugee Convention which the Government of Robert Menzies, the founder of the Liberal Party, committed Australia to in 1954.
“Instead of creating political distractions, the Australian Government should be listening to the repeated warnings of scientists and medical specialists. Today, for the safety of everyone in Australia, we once again call for the immediate release of recognised refugees and people seeking asylum, who pose no risk to the community.”
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