‘Lives at risk’ in Melbourne detention hotel after three asylum seekers test positive for Covid

An asylum seeker inside a Melbourne hotel being used as an “alternative place of detention” by Australian Border Force says detainees are frustrated and scared after three of them tested positive for Covid.

Mustafa Salah, 23, has spent the better part of eight years inside Australian detention facilities offshore and within its borders.

He’s currently in the Park hotel in Melbourne where he says detainees found out today that three people had tested positive and others were also showing symptoms. About 45 people are being detained in the hotel.

“We don’t know what to do,” Salah said. “We are always together … we sit together, eat together, we really don’t know what to do.”

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) director of advocacy and campaigns, Jana Favero, told AAP it was a situation the centre had feared, and despite attempts by detainees to socially distance and remain safe “it’s impossible in the conditions they’re in”.

“They’re scared and they’ve been scared for 18 months,” Favero said.

She said crowded conditions, hygiene issues, a lack of information, guards working multiple sites and low vaccination numbers were all factors driving the ASRC’s “deep concerns there could be an outbreak in a detention facility”.

Salah said that he and many other detainees were yet to be vaccinated.

He said he had been tested three or four times in the two weeks after he was moved to the hotel from Sydney’s Villawood detention centre, but that testing was not being carried out regularly.

The Australian Border Force has been contacted for comment.

The ASRC said it had warned the federal government for 18 months its systems for dealing with the pandemic were inadequate, and that these concerns were realised last month when workers at the Villawood and Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centres tested positive.

Since last December, the Morrison government has released almost 180 people transferred for medical treatment from detention, but 90 refugees remain, the ASRC said.

Dr Graham Thom, a refugee adviser at Amnesty International Australia, said in a statement that the continued detention put the men “at unnecessary risk to their life and long term health” and that they “must be released into safe accommodation in the community immediately”.

Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, slammed the three-day turnaround for test results to be received.

“That shocking delay, and the failure to test other detainees, has put everyone in Park hotel at increased risk of infection.

“Already one more refugee has been quarantined with Covid symptoms today. They have been denied medical treatment in Australia, now detention has put their lives at risk. They must be freed.”

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