Calls for asylum seekers to be freed from detention after Melbourne guard tests positive for Covid

Asylum seeker advocates are calling for people held in immigration detention to be released into the community after Victorian health officials revealed a guard at a facility in Melbourne had tested positive for Covid-19.

Victoria’s Covid commander, Jeroen Wiemar, on Sunday confirmed at least one coronavirus case at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accomodation centre in Broadmeadows in Melbourne’s north.

But Wiemar downplayed the potential for spread at the detention centre, stating the guard worked outside and had no contact within the facility with staff or people at the centre.

Refugee advocates said they have heard of a second guard at the facility who may also have tested positive for Covid, and between 35 and 45 staff were now isolating after being identified as close contacts. Australian Border Force (ABF) has not responded to requests to confirm those figures.

Sadaf Ismail, detention rights advocacy program manager at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said the asylum seekers held in the centre had been told by ABF about the case, but had not been offered any testing. Ismail said some were only offered their first dose of the vaccine last week.

“Most of the clients who are in those detention centres … they were medically evacuated for other health reasons,” she said.

Ismail said she was not comforted by the idea that the guard worked outdoors.

“They do interact … you know how transmissible Delta is. It’s also been reported the guard let people in and out [of the centre] … so the guards do have a lot of interaction with the clients.”

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A group of 140 organisations, including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Law Centre, have called on the federal government to release asylum seekers and refugees held in immigration detention into the community.

Graham Thom, refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia, said Australia should look at what has happened with Covid outbreaks in detention overseas.

“We have seen clear examples from around the world of what happens when governments ignore medical advice and keep people looked up in overcrowded detention centres, leading to the catastrophic spread of Covid-19,” he said.

“It is difficult to understand why Australia hasn’t followed best practice and released into the community those, like recognised refugees, that clearly pose no threat. While this should have been done over a year ago it must certainly be a priority now.”

On Monday, Weimar distanced the Victorian government from the testing at the centre, stating it was a matter for the federal government.

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