Morrison Government ignores medical advice, forcibly move refugee with COVID-19 back into immigration detention

Media Release
10 November 2021

A refugee being treated for COVID-19 at a Melbourne hospital has been transferred back to the Park Hotel Alternative Place of Detention (APOD) today.

The Time for a Home alliance of 140 organisations condemns the Morrison Government’s decision to continue detaining refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia’s network of detention centres, especially during a pandemic. Refugees discharged from hospital should not be returned to harmful environments where they are at a heightened risk.

Mohammed Sohrabi, a refugee held in Park Hotel, contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak at the APOD that started on October 17. His condition worsened and he was taken to a hospital for treatment. Today he was moved back to Park Hotel, where he initially contracted COVID-19.

Medical and legal bodies, including the Human Rights Commission, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases and the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control, have been warning the Government of the COVID-19 health risks, harmful conditions and lack of oversight into the care and treatment of refugees inside detention centres.

As of November 7, 22 people inside Park Hotel had tested positive for COVID-19 and the Department of Home Affairs, along with its healthcare provider, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), has shown that it lacks the capacity and capabilities to adequately care for those in detention.

The Morrison Government since December 2020 has released nearly 180 refugees and people seeking asylum from detention into the community, where they are significantly safer. Despite this, the Government continues to arbitrarily detain 85 refugees and people seeking asylum against the advice of medical and legal professionals and the safety of the community.

Thanush Selvarasa, human rights activist, current ASRC human rights intern and refugee detained on Manus Island, PNG, MITA and the Mantra Hotel Melbourne, was released 28 Jan 2021: “Mohammad should be released into the community. Nearly nine years, he has been in detention, in the same misery. Going back will cause pain, no one is safe there.”

“When I went to the hospital during detention, I was there for one week, I do not want to go back to detention again it is not a good place for anyone, detention is not our home, it destroys dreams.”

“I can protect myself now I am in the community, but in detention, it is out of our hands, workers are coming in and out, they control our food, we don’t even have fresh air. In the community, we can look after ourselves, in detention we can do nothing to protect ourselves.”

Marie Hapke, Australian Refugee Action Network said: “It is long past the time for all refugees and people seeking asylum to be released from immigration detention. There are 46 men in the Park Hotel in Melbourne who have now been held in detention for more than 8 years – 6 years in either PNG or Nauru and now over 2 years in Melbourne hotels. This long term detention is state sponsored cruelty and serves no purpose except to destroy their hopes for a safe and free future. Release into the community now.”

Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International said: “Where else in Australia in the last 18 months have nearly half the population contracted COVID-19? This is a failure of monumental proportions. There is simply no excuse for returning Mohammed back into detention at the Park Hotel. The conditions there are clearly unsafe and with the vast majority of those returned to Australia for medical reasons now living in the community it is time to draw a line under this costly, punitive practice.”

Jana Favero, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said: “Minister of Home Affairs Karen Andrews every day makes the choice to keep innocent people locked up in detention centres that are petri dishes for COVID-19, despite clear advice to the contrary and without any rationale.”

“The 85 refugees and people seeking asylum currently held across Australia’s immigration detention network, many of whom are immunocompromised, need to be immediately released into the community. 175 refugees and people seeking asylum in almost identical positions to those still in detention were released over the past year, and are now significantly safer. So why are people still held in detention? And why would a person with COVID-19 be sent back to the place they contracted it?”

Sarah Dale, Centre Director & Principal Solicitor, Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS) said: “When will enough be enough. Having these men face the risks that they have, during a pandemic, during a time when we know better and we have the evidence available of the immense risk – is simply appalling. Releasing all those from the Park Hotel, and others in situations like his, is the only available thing to do, if we are to act with any conscience at all.”

David Burke, Legal Director, Human Rights Law Centre, said: “It is unconscionable for the Morrison Government to send Mohammed back to the place where he contracted COVID-19 in the first place. The Government was repeatedly warned about the risk of an outbreak in its detention system, yet continued to detain people in the Park Hotel for no reason. All of the men and women brought from offshore detention must be urgently released into the community where they can keep themselves safe during this pandemic.”

Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Coalition said: “Mohammad and all the Medevac refugees in the Park hotel should be freed. The hotel is a Covid crime scene that should be closed. Two years ago, they were transferred from Nauru and PNG for medical treatment, but instead, they have been subjected to medical neglect and exposed to Covid. It’s time the mistreatment ended.”


Media contact: Sam Brennan 0428 973 324 or

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