Morrison Is Detaining Refugees With Compromised Health Inside COVID Hotspot

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Detaining refugees for COVID

As of Sunday evening, 23 of the 46 Medevac refugees currently being held long-term in the Park Hotel in the Melbourne inner city suburb of Carlton have contracted the Delta strain of the COVID-19 virus.

Unlike other COVID outbreaks occurring in settings that have involved large numbers staying in the one location, which has led to those infected being transferred to quarantine facilities, authorities have kept all Park Hotel refugees – the infected and the uninfected – inside the same building.

The men currently being detained inside the Park – which is classified as an alternative place of detention (APOD) – were all previously locked up for years in the offshore gulag that was the Manus Island immigration detention centre.

These refugees were placed in the Park last December. This was after they’d all been held in other APODs, following transfer from Papua New Guinea in early 2019, under the now revoked Medevac laws.

This means that all the men being held inside the hotel with COVID-19 circulating have compromised health and are, therefore, more susceptible to the potentially deadly virus.

Some of the refugees began showing symptoms around 11 October. However, no one was tested until the 14th. And during the intervening days before the first three men were told they were COVID positive on 17th of the month, all detainees were left to roam the hotel corridors together.

No treatment forthcoming

“This has been more than two weeks that we have had COVID inside the Park Hotel. More than 20 refugees have COVID. More than half,” said former Manus Island detainee Ahmad Zhir Azizi. “I tested positive one week ago.”

“Every 24 hours, a nurse comes here and asks, ‘How are you?’,” the 35-year-old from Afghanistan told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “For more than two weeks, I thought I had COVID. I didn’t see the doctor. I have had no medicine or good food.”

Ahmad Zhir Azizi is held in the Park following having tested positive to COVID

Azizi was held in Papua New Guinea from 2013 through to 2019, when he was brought to Australia to undergo medical treatment.

There have been widespread calls to release the refugees with compromised health from the APOD to avoid more of them catching the virus during the current outbreak, but nothing has been done.

Indeed, around 80 Medevac refugees were released from the Park and into the community on bridging visas at the beginning of the year. And those men who remain in detention have no idea why the others were selected to be released, whilst they weren’t.

According to Azizi, he was suffering from headaches and chest pains all day last Sunday. But when he asked Serco staff for a paracetamol, his request was simply denied. Currently, Azizi is just being left in his room, without any treatment provided.

Medevac refugee detainees stuck inside the Park Hotel

COVID detained inside

The Morrison government is responsible for the welfare of the refugees, whom they’ve been illegally detaining for over eight years.

Right now, all of the Medevac refugees inside the APOD are being kept locked in their rooms in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.

Since March 2020, doctors, lawyers, and human rights advocates have been warning about the dangers of continuing to keep these men together in confined hotel settings, which leave no ability to socially distance.

And the Serco guards come and go on a daily basis, which has long left the potential open for COVID to enter the facility.

The Australian Border Force said last week that all detainees had been offered the vaccine, but to date, only 55 percent have been fully vaccinated.

While the federal health minister Greg Hunt said there is a “ring of containment” around the Park to protect the men. And he added that vaccines are the responsibility of states and territories.

“The refugees are very worried because we are held inside the hotel. We just want to go outside, because COVID is inside the hotel,” Azizi concluded.

“The windows do not open. The rooms are always closed. The whole hotel – the building – is always closed. The fresh air is outside, and the virus cannot go out.”

Main photo: Guards check on Medevac refugee detainee in the Park Hotel

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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