Refugee: ‘Serco is playing with our lives’ in the Park Hotel

October 19, 2021
Refugees imprisoned in the Park Hotel at risk of contracting COVID-19. Photo: Refugee Action Coalition

A refugee imprisoned at the Park hotel prison in Carlton told Green Left on October 17 that three refugees had tested positive for COVID-19. “Many others have got symptoms but no one cares,” he said. 

“Five are currently in isolation but many, who have got really bad symptoms, are scared of going into hard quarantine. I’m sure this is being hidden from the public and it will cost us our lives,” said the refugee, who did not want to be identified.

“Previously, if there was a COVID-19 case here, an officer would update us in the middle of the night assuring us that we are safe. But, he has not worked here lately. Now there is an outbreak and everyone has gone quiet.”

While people in the community who experience any symptoms get tested and isolate until they receive results, the refugees have to wait more than three days to get tested and then have to wait a three more days for the result.

Refugees and refugee activists have been warning since the beginning of the pandemic that detention is high risk for contracting the deadly virus.

All refugees at the Park Hotel would have likely been exposed to COVID-19.  They have been ordered to stay in their rooms. “The [officers] should be the ones to go into quarantine, not us,” the refugee said. “We never stepped outside. They are the ones that brought it [the virus] in and now we are paying for it.”

Devron Brock, a nurse and refugee activist from Adelaide, told GL that workers in any exposure site, especially those in contact with vulnerable people, should not be allowed to work. “What are the staff doing back there, when we know they are the ones that brought it in,” she asked.

Refugees said Serco, the private corporation managing refugee detention centres, have not ensured staff are tested for COVID-19 or informed them of the outbreak. 

“This is a serious breach of the law and health orders,” the refugee said. “Whenever there is an outbreak, everyone has to quarantine and get tested. But the MMS security guys said they have not been told anything about any confirmed cases. Serco should have informed them and told them not come here and to also get tested. 

“They are not supposed to be here unless they get their negative results. They are playing with our lives.

“The Park hotel is a COVID-19 incubator. Refugees are being housed on levels 2 and 3, just one level above guys who are COVID-19-positive,” Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) said. The hotel is circulating air-conditioned air and the windows cannot be opened.

“The government has failed to implement the most basic COVID-19 protocols and created the conditions most likely to cause maximum infection among a very vulnerable group of people,” Rintoul said.

Three refugees were taken to hospital but have now been sent back to the Park Hotel where around 40–46 other refugees are. They should have been released into the community where they could safely socially distance and protect themselves.

RAC reported that one man, Mohammad, a 35-year-old Kurdish refugee had been confirmed as positive. But instead of being hospitalised, he was given paracetamol.

“I am not good, I am shivering with fever and have an excruciating headache, pain in my waist, and I can’t even stand. I feel no one cares about us, and they don’t want to stop using us for their dirty policy,” he told RAC.  

“We see on the news that only 10 people can be at a wedding. But here we are 45 refugees plus cleaners, Serco and IHMS [International Health and Medical Services]. They knew it would happen sooner or later, but they don’t want to do anything.”

The refugees were brought to Australia to receive medical attention after contracting illnesses and injuries after being imprisoned offshore. Those at the Park Hotel have been traumatised from being imprisoned for more than nine years, the last two of which have been spent at the Park Hotel.

[On October 19, the refugee confirmed that the virus had infected 13 people at the Park Hotel. A rally demanding that all refugees be released from detention is being organised on October 23 at 2pm outside the Park Hotel prison.]

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