Immigration detention guard tested positive for COVID-19 shows the need to immediately release refugees

Media Release
6 September 2021

Refugees and people seeking asylum held in Australia’s network of immigration detention centres must be immediately released as at least one guard has tested positive for COVID-19.

This news comes despite numerous warnings about the inadequacy and danger of the immigration detention regime, especially during a pandemic.

Victorian COVID-19 commander Jeroen Weimar confirmed on Sunday that a security guard working at a Melbourne detention centre has contracted COVID-19. Later reports confirmed that this guard worked at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) and the adjacent Broadmeadows Residential Precinct (BRP).

Refugees currently held in MITA and the BRP have reported that there may be an additional guard with COVID-19 and described an entirely inadequate response from authorities with elderly and vulnerable people not being tested.

There have also been numerous delays in the vaccine rollout in detention centres, with vulnerable people still not fully vaccinated and some people have not yet received their first shot.

The Government has known of the danger of COVID-19 infection in immigration detention centres for over a year, with the Commonwealth Ombudsman raising the inadequacy of APODs during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases and the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control advising the Government in early 2020 to release people held in detention to protect against a widespread outbreak.

The Time for a Home alliance of 140 organisations and community networks, has been calling on the Government to immediately release all refugees and people seeking asylum from immigration detention. This call is supported by the community with a petition in early March 2021 gaining 36,923 signatures.

Carolyn Graydon, Principal Solicitor and Manager of Human Rights Law Program, ASRC: “The Government has known for around 18 months now that people held in Immigration detention are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and are being held in overcrowded detention facilities where social distancing and other mandated health precautions cannot be observed.”

“Not only has the Government failed to release people who present no risk to the community, and who face a high risk of COVID-19, they have not even been prioritised for vaccination. Detention centres in both Sydney and Melbourne are located in areas which have suffered major community transmission for some time and yet many detainees have still not received even a single vaccine dose.”

“This is a scandal and further confirmation of the low value that the Government attaches to the lives of people held in immigration detention, many of whom are refugees and continue to be held for absolutely no reason, in breach of their basic human rights.”

Scott Cosgriff, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre: “The Morrison Government’s delay in releasing people from detention centres is risking the health of the people in detention, the staff going in and out and the communities they live in.”

“It is unfathomable that it has taken so long for people in detention to have access to vaccinations, and all the more disturbing considering so many people shouldn’t be in detention in the first place.”

Dr Graham Thom, refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia said: “We have seen clear examples from around the world of what happens when governments ignore medical advice and keep people looked up in overcrowded detention centres, leading to the catastrophic spread of COVID-19.”

“It is difficult to understand why Australia hasn’t followed best practice and released into the community those, like recognised refugees, that clearly pose no threat. While this should have been done over a year ago it must certainly be a priority now.”

Marie Hapke from the Australian Refugee Action Network said: “The government continues to hold refugees and people awaiting determination of their refugee status in administrative detention. This is entirely unnecessary and serves only to bolster profits in the detention industry, and to harm vulnerable people by separating them from family and community support. Many refugees have been released into the community – it’s time to release all. Australia must honour basic human rights and release these people to freedom.”


Media contact: Sam Brennan 0428 973 324 or

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