An asylum seeker inside a Melbourne hotel being used as an “alternative place of detention” by the Australian Border Force says detainees are frustrated and scared after three of them tested positive for COVID-19.
Mustafa Salah, 23, has spent the better part of eight years inside Australian detention facilities offshore and within its borders.
He’s now in the Park Hotel in Melbourne where he says detainees found out on Sunday that three people had tested positive for COVID-19 and others were also showing symptoms.
“We don’t know what to do,” Mr Salah told AAP.
“We are always together … we sit together, eat together, we really don’t know what to do.”
#BREAKING news at least 3 refugees have tested positive for #COVID19 in the Park Hotel Immigration Prison in Melbourne. Detained 8 years, the men have continuously protested and warned of such a moment. The @ASRC1 is calling for the release of all refugees held there immediately pic.twitter.com/2pDQkokD44
— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K) October 17, 2021
On Sunday evening, Australian Border Force confirmed it was aware of the positive cases and said contact tracing, quarantining, testing and cleaning was now under way in conjunction with Victorian public health.
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,” Ms 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”.
The Australian Border Force said all people in immigration detention have been offered vaccination and the rollout of vaccines began in August.
Mr Salah told AAP 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.
Refugees held at the #ParkHotel MAPOD have tested positive for #COVID19 #Serco brought the virus in and all safety systems have proved ineffective.
This is not a safe place for quarantine, refugees who test negative must be released. #FreeTheRefugees
— RAC Victoria (@racvictoria) October 17, 2021
Chris Breen from Refugee Action Collective Victoria said a lack of testing “has put everyone in Park Hotel at risk”, and that it was “shocking” that it took until Sunday morning to confirm a positive result in one of the detainees who was swabbed on Friday.
He also criticised the vaccine rollout that began in August, saying it had been delayed far too long, and said some detainees “have been fearful that vaccination might lead to them being sent offshore or to a worse detention centre”.
He said positive cases in the Park Hotel were being moved to level one of the building to isolate, which he called a “recipe to spread the infection” in an air-conditioned hotel.
At the end of August, about 35 per cent of detainees had been partially vaccinated and 16 per cent fully vaccinated, at a time when 58.71 per cent of eligible Australians had received a first dose and 35.03 per cent were fully vaccinated.