Remember those in permanent quarantine

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With all the congratulations that have been going around following Melbourne achieving zero COVID-19 cases there is one group that has been entirely overlooked. They have done it tough, perhaps tougher even than elderly in nursing homes. They have been kept in hotels under the watch of security guards, the same scenario that led to Melbourne’s second outbreak of COVID-19 and to our prolonged lockdown. Yet not one of these people came down with COVID.

 Asylum seekers continue to watch from the balcony of the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel (Jono Searle/Getty Images)

These particular people remain in a prolonged form of hotel quarantine, unable to mix with the general public. They are refugees and asylum seekers brought to Australia under the now defunct Medevac legislation from Nauru and Manus Island. Around 200 of them are held — in some cases for nearly two years at the Mantra hotel in Preston, and the Kangaroo Point hotel in Brisbane.

There have been no congratulations for them despite the superhuman effort they must have had to make to avoid contracting the virus, especially when at the onset of the pandemic, two security guards tested positive to the virus, one at the Mantra, and the other at the Kangaroo Point Hotel.

When the pandemic first took hold in Melbourne, these refugees and asylum seekers were already more vulnerable than many in general population. They have faced delays in receiving treatment for conditions that prompted their transfer to Australia. It is known that anyone with existing medical conditions can be more susceptible to COVID. It has also been harder for them to observe recommended precautions for guarding against an outbreak of COVID — keeping a social safe distance from others and regularly sanitising hands.

At his daily press conferences monitoring COVID numbers in the community, there was one factor Premier Dan Andrews constantly stressed when assessing the risk at nursing homes: that was if bathrooms were shared.

At the Mantra hotel there are some single rooms, but two to three refugees share in other rooms. Each room has a bathroom. They are supplied with hand sanitizer but the refugees say the containers are not filled regularly.

 

'Victorians locked up for nearly five months now have some insight into what must be like to be locked up like these refugees are, with no release in sight.'

 

At the Kangaroo Point hotel in Brisbane, refugees report up to six men share a room. Shared bathrooms were only cleaned at certain times, leaving the refugees to clean them at other times. The hand sanitizer containers are often empty or broken — all conditions very different to those for returning travellers from overseas who went into 14 days hotel quarantine, and yet that was where Victoria’s second lockdown originated.

Given these contrasting conditions, perhaps the Victorian Government’s inquiry into hotel quarantine should have looked at why the outcome at hotels holding refugees has been so different to hotels used for returning travellers. Is it just that different security companies were used? Or could it be that these men, now detained in some instances for six to seven years, have behaved more responsibly that some returning travellers?

The impact of Victoria’s harsh lockdown on mental health now and in the months to come has been recognised. In August the Prime Minister Scott Morrison allocated an extra $12 million to mental health support services to prevent suicides. In August the Victorian Government announced nearly $60 billion in extra funding for mental health services to cope with the surge in demand during the COVID lockdown.

At the Mantra hotel, one detainee has attempted suicide and according to other detainees, another ``has 'lost his mind'. Victorians locked up for nearly five months now have some insight into what must be like to be locked up like these refugees are, with no release in sight.

Is it not time for the Federal Government to show some compassion to them and the 360 detainees languishing still on Manus Island and Nauru, and the 543 in community detention around Australia as of last September? Last week the Federal Government released five refugees from the medevac hotels, but only because of pending court action testing the legality of holding them.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison should remember that back in July 2004 when it was politically expedient to do so, his Liberal colleague, then Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, was able to show some flexibility and changed the Immigration rules to allow up to 9500 refugees the chance to stay in Australia.

This was pre-offshore detention and these were refugees on temporary protection visas (TPVs). Many had been working in rural areas for up to two years but still had to prove their asylum claim to stay permanently in Australia. Under the softened stance, they could apply for permanent mainstream migrant visas such as business, spouse or student visas.

The move followed pressure from Victorian backbench rural MPs including National’s John Forrest, who had TPVs working in their electorates fruit picking areas. The pandemic has brought job shortages in precisely these areas with the loss of backpackers. If compassionate grounds are not compelling enough for the Federal Government to release these people, surely there is now an economic imperative.

Meanwhile, ordinary Australians have put the Federal Government to shame over its intransigence on the fate of these people. They have funded a scheme, currently at $73,000, that allows Canadians to sponsor detainees from Manus and Nauru to resettle in Canada. So far they have financed a new life in Canada for nine refugees. Another twenty are undergoing processing.

 

 

Andra JacksonAndra Jackson is a freelance writer and award winning refugee issue specialist. 

Main image: Asylum seekers continue to watch from the balcony of the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel (Jono Searle/Getty Images)

 

Topic tags: Andra Jackson, COVID-19, refugees, asylum seekers, Kangaroo Point hotel, Mantra hotel

 

 

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Existing comments

THANK YOU FOR YOUR ARTICLE ON ASYLUM SEEKERS IN LOCKDOWN. IS ANYONE PERMITTED TO WRITE TO THEM? REGARDS FROM BARBARA BURDER.
BARBARA BURDER | 15 December 2020


Congratulations Andra on a telling article. The injustice of their plight is a further blight on the Federal Governments unbelievably bad record in dealing with refugees. Currently there are 4000 fruit picking jobs advertised in Qld so they should all be released to help fill that void normally assigned to the backpackers who cant get here. Obviously it may not be what they want to do, but it would be more healthy and enjoyable than being cooped up in a hotel in Preston.
Francis Armstrong | 16 December 2020


No Australian government policy should start or begin with an attitude of cruelty. That is, no damage should be done as a first rule. There are complex issues around asylum. The system may not be fit for purpose in these times. But punishing or inflicting hurt on individuals has besmirched Australia's record here. Every twist and turn in policy and practice leads to further outcomes, often very negative outcomes. Lockdown was shocking. I think all of us, whatever our attitudes, could see how difficult it would be for these men in particular. Covid makes the plight of these men even more pressing. There is a compelling case for an amnesty or humanitarian gesture that would help these men, and ease the sense of trouble, shame or unease in the hearts of many Australians. Its time.
John Kilner | 16 December 2020


Hear, hear Amanda. A most deserving case, argued in a compelling manner. Everybody who's been locked down during COVID should now have at least some i dea of what's it like for our asylum seekers and go in hard for their release.
Pat Walsh | 16 December 2020


The inhumane incarceration of registered refugees and unwell asylum seekers is a disgrace to Australia and an indictment of the supposedly Christian Ministers who authorise it. I hope that the next time our PM is photographed at a church service he remembers the situation of these unfortunate people.
Juliet | 18 December 2020


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