Kangaroo Point protest: COVID-19 is one more reason to free refugees

Refugees deserve a safe home
Refugee supporters at Kangaroo Point: 'Refugees deserve a safe home'. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Dozens of refugees detained at a hotel in Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, staged a protest on their balconies on April 24 to highlight the risk of catching COVID-19 and calling for their release from the facility.

It is at least the third such protest since the pandemic reached Australia.

Scores of activists showed solidarity outside. To comply with Queensland’s physical distancing rules that allow people to exercise, they carried signs while walking or cycling repeatedly around the block where the hotel is located.

More than 100 refugees are being detained in crowded conditions. They fear that the virus could spread rapidly among the detainees given the the coming and going of staff and security guards.

According to SBS, this fear was heightened when a security guard from a Brisbane detention centre tested positive for the virus.

More than 1000 doctors signed an open letter calling on the government to release people seeking asylum and refugees from detention into community accommodation as the way to ensure their safety and minimise the risk to health services that would ensue from an outbreak in a detention facility.

Given the risk of serious disease and death from COVID-19 for people with underlying health conditions, and because many refugees and people seeking asylum in detention in Australia have been evacuated from Manus Island and Nauru for medical treatment, detainees are particularly vulnerable.

Socialist Alliance has been supporting these protests since most of the detainees have been held under Australian immigration law for 7 years without knowing when they will be released.

As Australians come to grips with the stresses of life stuck at home — without bars and security guards — I hope for more empathy for refugees and asylum seekers stuck in worse conditions for years.

The detention regime was bad before COVID-19; now the pandemic has added one more reason why refugees and asylum-seekers must be freed.