Guard tests COVID-19 positive at refugee detention hotel

Mantra Hotel. Refugee supporters want the refugees to be removed from detention hotels to the community. Photo: Refugee Action Collective, Victoria

A security guard who worked on the 3rd floor of the Mantra Hotel in Preston has tested positive to COVID-19. Australian Border Force informed refugees of the positive result on July 12. Workers in hazmat suits have been cleaning the 3rd floor where refugees are imprisoned, but refugees themselves still do not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), the Refugee Action Collective (RAC) said on July 13.

RAC spokesperson Chris Breen said the positive case “confirms all the warnings from refugee advocates about the risk of COVID-19 to refugees held in detention who are unable to physically distance or protect themselves from the virus”.

Also of concern is that “authorities are not proposing uniform testing for refugees, as they have for other residents of Melbourne affected by outbreaks. Refugees have been offered optional testing, and, if they take up the offer, will be required to isolate in solitary confinement whilst awaiting test results,” Breen said.

Mostafa Azimitabar, or “Moz”, who was brought from Manus Island and is now being held at the Mantra, said: “Everyone is panicking, nobody could sleep last night. I could not get to sleep until 5am. ABF said they could not guarantee that we wouldn’t get infected, when I asked”.

Moz said the security guard was from MSS security and last worked at the Mantra one week earlier. MSS is one of the security companies linked to the leaks of COVID-19 from Victoria’s quarantine hotels.

Australia’s acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has described Melbourne’s public housing towers as being like “vertical cruise ships”.

Breen said the detention centres and hotels are similar. “Refugees who have committed no crime and been detained for seven years, are now having their lives threatened by being held unnecessarily in cruise-like detention conditions. This is beyond cruel. This is a form of torture.”

Breen criticised authorities for criminalising refugee supporters who are trying to highlight the plight of the refugees detained at the Mantra.

“Refugee supporters have been fined, and charged with ‘incitement’ for organising a safe car convoy drawing attention to the plight of the refugees in the Mantra Hotel.” Yet, there have been no positive cases associated with those protests, he said.

“There are no penalties for authorities whose wilful negligence has led to actual cases of COVID-19,” Breen said. “Despite multiple warnings, government authorities continue to put refugees at risk of COVID-19 infection.”

RAC is calling for an independent inquiry into the potential exposure of refugees and guards, and wants all those potentially exposed individuals to be tested. It is also demanding that the federal government immediately release the Medevac refugees from detention in the Mantra Hotel and Kangaroo Point in Brisbane.

[Refugee rights rallies are being organised across the country over the next week. Click here to find out where they are.]

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