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COVID outbreak strikes Park Hotel detainees

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Words by Matt Harvey

Refugees being detained by the federal government in Carlton’s Park Hotel were at the centre of a major COVID-19 outbreak last month, with 21 cases confirmed at the time of publishing.

The hotel is being used as an immigration detention facility for 45 men who were mostly brought from offshore detention to Australia to receive medical treatment, with pre-existing health conditions increasing the risk of many contracting COVID.

The outbreak is understood to have originated from three detainees, but with refugees confined to their rooms, with limited access to fresh air, many more soon began developing symptoms last month.

At the time of publishing, more cases were expected to be found as others awaited test results.

Nina Field, an ASRC Detention Rights Advocacy Caseworker, who works directly with people in detention, said the federal government had been aware of the dangers for almost 20 months.

“They’ve made no upgrades, no special ventilation, no filtration, and no real caution at all,” Ms Field said.

Azizi, a detainee in quarantine on level one of the hotel who has recently fled Afghanistan, said poor living conditions in the building weren’t helping with limiting the spread of COVID.

“Refugees have single rooms here in the hotel. The problem is when it’s lunch time we’re going downstairs to the kitchen, in this time we’re all sitting together, five people sitting together, seven people sitting together,” he said.

 

I was working with the government, now the government is gone, now Taliban has control and it’s very dangerous for my family.

 

Azizi told Inner City News that he had asked the federal government multiple times to have his family brought in or to be sent to his brothers in the USA, but his requests had not been met. He said that he feared that he might have COVID.

“I don’t know why they want to keep me here,” Azizi said.

“I asked for the doctor to check me, my chest is really bad. But they said, ‘No, I don’t have a doctor, I don’t have anything in here’.”

“Yesterday I came to quarantine in level one, they just put me in the quarantine room, dirty room, there’s nothing inside, no doctor, no medicine, nothing.”

Refugees have been moved from the shared floors (levels two and three) to the first floor, however they all share the same ventilation system – a problem that has previously shown up in hotel quarantine.

Azizi said as everyone in the hotel was in quarantine, even the refugees who weren’t on level one couldn’t leave their room except to smoke on the roof, and they weren’t allowed to open windows.

“Windows are just one glass, windows can’t open in the whole hotel,” Azizi said.

Chris Breen, a spokesperson for Refugee Action Collective, said the system had continuously let refugees down.

“They’re just not a political priority, they’ve been a political football for a long time, they’re being kicked around and that has an impact that filters down,” Mr Breen said.

“The whole system says that these people are not a priority.”

The Australian Border Force said all detainees in immigration detention facilities had been offered COVID-19 vaccinations.

An ABF spokesperson said the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination program to consenting detainees began in early August 2021 and had taken place at all immigration detention facilities (IDF) across the immigration detention network.

“The situation is under investigation by relevant health authorities,” the spokesperson said •

Caption: A Park Hotel refugee pleading for help (left) and various organisations protesting for their release. Photos: RAC.

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