3 April 2020
COVID-19: Government must act to avoid a catastrophe in immigration detention
The Chair of public interest think-tank Australia21, Mr Paul Barratt AO, today called upon the Federal Government to act as a matter of urgency to enable all people in immigration detention to behave in accordance with the physical distancing guidelines which have been introduced to limit the spread of the highly infectious and potentially lethal new coronavirus COVID-19.
“The Commonwealth Government, with the support of the States and Territories, has issued enforceable physical distancing guidelines considered necessary to help manage the threat to public health posed by COVID-19”, Mr Barratt said. “As a humanitarian matter, and in conformity with its obligations under international law, the Commonwealth has a duty to ensure that refugees detained under its authority, whether in Australia, PNG or Nauru, are able to practice the required distancing. This is not only a humanitarian issue, it is also a public health issue. Any cluster of people not practicing the required distancing represents a threat to the health of all, via cross-infection of each other and infection of those with whom they come into contact.”
“This process would be greatly facilitated if the Government were to respond to this new situation by resolving all outstanding claims as soon as practicable and resettling all refugees in Australia, regardless of their date or mode of arrival.”
Mr Barratt said that Australia21’s position is supported by a large body of its research:
· Our work on empathy and compassion reveals how a nation's spirit and resilience can be influenced positively by the way it treats its most vulnerable members
· Our work on resilience indicates that consistent narratives are a key component of a nation's ability to cope with shocks and allowing people in our care to suffer will undermine our national narrative of being a caring nation of people who care for all who are disadvantaged or downtrodden.
· Our work on resilience also indicates that, apart from the humanitarian aspects of how we treat asylum seekers, allowing discontent to build among these people and their supporters could undermine both confidence in government and ability of government to rely on the broader public to play their part on cooperative efforts to address COVID-19 challenges
· Our work on drug reform reveals how being tough on social issues frequently causes backlashes that make the problem worse.