Refugees in APOD

As cases of COVID-19 increases among refugees and asylum seekers, the Australian Government must do more to ensure their safety

The Australian Government must honour its duty of care to look after the welfare of asylum seekers and refugees, following reports of an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases both onshore at the Park Hotel in Melbourne and offshore on Papua New Guinea.

According to media reports, the number of cases among the 123 asylum seekers and refugees still trapped on PNG is increasing as the Delta strain spreads throughout the country. Just 2 percent of the population is understood to be fully vaccinated and medical facilities are already struggling with the increase in cases.

In Melbourne, the number of cases of those held at the Park Hotel for almost a year has increased to 15 – a third of all those detained – with many of the men, already struggling with long term health conditions, at serious risk from the virus.

Dr Graham Thom, refugee adviser to Amnesty International Australia, said: “Because of Australia’s offshore detention policy there are 123 refugees and asylum seekers still trapped on PNG and another 87 detained onshore here in Australia.”

It is the responsibility of the Australian government to ensure they have access to the best possible medical treatment and that they are living in a Covid-19 safe environment. Neither of these two important elements are being provided – the Government must do more.

Dr Graham Thom, refugee adviser to AIA

“New Zealand’s offer to resettle those refugees who have been in limbo for so long is still on the table. The Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, has previously said talks are taking place. Now it is more urgent than ever that she accepts the offer and gets those still trapped and at risk of Covid-19 to safety.”

Craig Foster AM, former Socceroo and human rights advocate, said: “The Government’s immediate responsibility is to ensure refugees under their care in PNG and at the Park Hotel have access to the required medical treatment. That includes ensuring people can isolate in safety. But that we’re even in this situation is staggering. Surely this is the wake up call the Government needs, and can at least provide the impetus to finally accept the New Zealand resettlement offer.”

Craig Foster spoke with detained refugee Mohamed from the Park Hotel Prison. Mohamed, along with most of the refugees detained there has recently tested positive to COVID-19. He shares his story in hopes of inspiring Australians to take action. From persecution in his homeland, to fleeing and attempting to find refuge in Australia, to being held in detention for nine years.

Mohamed’s story, like so many others, is a testament to the cruelty of Australia’s offshore detention policy and yet another example of why it must end. New Zealand has a standing offer to resettle all detained refugees, like Mohamed.

The Australian government has so far refused to accept this offer.