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COVID-19: Hundreds of asylum seekers in detention begin hunger strike

Asylum seekers’ room in the Villawood detention center in Sydney. Source: Supplied
Asylum seekers in immigration detention centres in Sydney and Brisbane have begun a hunger strike to protest their continued confinement amid fears of the spread of COVID-19.
BY IMAN RIMAN, ALI BAHNASAWY
More than 200 detainees in Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre are taking part in the strike, and at least one from the Brisbane detention centre transit accommodation facility.
Villawood detainee Issa Andrews told SBS Arabic24 that the strike came as a “last resort” after more than 250 detainees signed a letter which was sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
In it, they express fear of being infected by the virus and complain about the lack of space in detention.
Mr Andrews said the protesters had a number of demands, including that guards and workers wear greater protective clothes to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus, as well as greater access for detainees to medical care if needed.
He said other demands included that new detainees get tested for the virus upon arrival, and also a request for the quicker processing of immigration applications.
“We communicated with the Australian Border Force for weeks, and they are not responding to us at all,” the 44-year-old Jordanian said.
“We hope the hunger strike will achieve what we are asking for.”
Video: Villawood detainees announce the hunger strike on Monday.
At the Brisbane facility, Sam Ibrahim, 54, began a hunger strike three days ago.
He’s calling for inmates in the centre to be released into community detention.
“There is a high risk of catching coronavirus in the prison since all employees enter without taking any protective measures,” he said.
Of the estimated 1400 people held in detention in Australia, many are asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their applications to remain in the county.
Furthermore, among those detained are former inmates of Australia’s offshore centres on Manus Island and Nauru, who were transferred to Australia to receive medical treatment as part of the Medevac law.
In late March, asylum seekers in three detention centres – Villawood, Yongah Hill and a Mantra Hotel – attempted to draw attention to what they say is a lack of protection and preparation against the coronavirus outbreak.
Detainees being held at the Kangaroo Point Hotel in Brisbane demonstrated over the weekend calling for their release after it was confirmed that a guard employed by contractor Serco tested positive last month.
A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs told SBS Arabic24 “no immigration detention detainees have tested positive to COVID-19”.
“A service provider staff member tested positive last month in Brisbane but had not worked in a detention facility for almost two weeks before testing positive.
“All appropriate contact tracing and testing has been done and there have been no further positive cases related to that individual.”
The spokesperson added that “infection control plans are in place and plans to manage suspected cases of COVID-19 have been developed and tested”.
“Detainees displaying any COVID-19 symptoms may be quarantined and tested in line with advice from health officials and in accordance with the broader Commonwealth response.
“A range of measures have been introduced, and are being continually reviewed, to keep detainees and staff informed of preventive measures and personal hygiene standards.”
The spokesperson confirmed that in addition to regular daily cleaning, increased cleaning of communal areas, high traffic areas and common touchpoints is occurring.
“The ABF, and service providers, remain focussed on the health and safety of all detainees and staff during this time. We continue to follow the advice of the Department of Health and other health officials.”
SOURCE: sbs.com

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UNHCR and IOM shocked and dismayed by deaths near Belarus-Poland border

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and are deeply saddened by the deaths of four individuals near the border between Poland and Belarus. The organizations express their condolences to the families of the deceased and are calling for an immediate investigation into this tragedy. The nationalities of the all the victims have yet to be confirmed but two Iraqi nationals reportedly died of hypothermia.

In recent months, groups of asylum-seekers and migrants have been transiting through Belarus, to seek asylum in neighbouring EU Member States – Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

The two agencies have been following with growing concern, reports of pushbacks of people at these borders. Groups of people have become stranded for weeks, unable to access any form of assistance, asylum or basic services. Many were left in dire situations, exposed to the elements, suffering from hypothermia. Some were rescued from swamps.

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Recognizing the significant challenges posed by irregular movements, the agencies have called for the situation to be managed in accordance with international legal obligations, and for States to work collaboratively to resolve the situation, prioritising human rights.

UNHCR and IOM call for immediate access to those affected, in order to provide lifesaving medical help, food, water and shelter, especially in light of the approaching winter.

While States have the sovereign right to manage their borders, this is not incompatible with the respect for human rights including the right to seek asylum. Pushbacks endanger lives and are illegal under international law.

UNHCR and IOM have been engaging with relevant authorities to explore various options for the people who continue to be stranded at borders; from access to asylum, family reunification procedures, and voluntary return for those found not to be in need of international protection.

IOM and UNHCR reiterate that asylum-seekers and migrants should never be used by States to achieve political ends. The fundamental responsibility to protect vulnerable people should be shared among States in a spirit of solidarity. Political disagreement on responsibilities must never result in the loss of life, forfeiting States international obligations and commitments.

READ  Horrors of asylum seekers (iii) The Nation’s intervention saves stranded female deportees, children

 

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UNHCR calls on Libya to urgently develop plan for asylum seekers and refugees, welcomes authorization to restart evacuation

Libya. UNHCR provides assistance to asylum-seekers caught in crackdown

A refugee feeds her baby while waiting to receive assistance at an emergency distribution by UNHCR and partners in Tripoli, Libya.  © UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today urged the Libyan government to immediately address the dire situation of asylumseekers and refugees in a humane and rights-based manner. Raids and arbitrary arrests by the authorities this month targeted areas largely  populated by refugees and asylumseekers that resulted in several deaths, thousands detained, and many homeless and destitute.

“Since the start of the security raids and arrests by the Libyan authorities in October, we have witnessed a sharp deterioration in the situation facing vulnerable asylumseekers and refugees in Tripoli,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Western and Central Mediterranean Situation. “The Libyan authorities must come up with a proper plan that respects their rights and identifies durable solutions.”

Some 3,000 people are currently sheltering outside the Community Day Centre (CDC) in Tripoli, where UNHCR and its partners have been providing medical assistance and other services. Their situation is very precarious. Many were affected by the raids, demolition of their homes, and have escaped from detention in terrible conditions. Others have joined the group hoping to be evacuated.

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“Many have been left homeless and lost all their belongings as a result of the security operation and are now sleeping in the cold and in a very unsafe environment. This is utterly unacceptable,” said Cochetel.

UNHCR and partners had to suspend operations at the Community Day Centre for security and safety reasons, but remain engaged in an active dialogue with representatives of the protesters outside the CDC to explain the limited assistance it can offer, including cash and food assistance.

Together with other UN agencies, UNHCR stands ready to support an urgent plan of action that could help alleviate the terrible suffering of asylumseekers and refugees in Libya. 

UNHCR continues to call on the authorities to respect the human rights and dignity of asylumseekers and refugees, stop their arbitrary arrest and release them from detention. 

The UN Refugee Agency has welcomed authorization to restart humanitarian evacuation flights, but warns that it is not enough. 

“This is a positive development for some of the most vulnerable refugees, who have been waiting anxiously for many months to depart. Our teams are already working to ensure humanitarian flights can restart as soon as possible,” said Cochetel “But we also need to be realistic: resettlement or evacuation flights will only benefit a limited number of people.”    

More than 1,000 vulnerable refugees and asylumseekers are currently prioritised for humanitarian flights and awaiting their resumption. UNHCR continues to urge the international community to offer more legal pathways to safety outside Libya.

READ  JIFORM calls for multi-dimensional approaches to tackling human trafficking

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Free movement of people a top priority, say West African nations

Aligned migration policies must be effectively applied by border officials to ease free movement while combatting trafficking in persons, says the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Photo: Fredrick Ejiga/IOM

Abuja – Free movement of people and goods, and fighting human trafficking should be top policy priorities, members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed at talks convened with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Network for Migration and the African Union.

Three days of consultations in Abuja this week offered the first chance for ECOWAS members to collectively assess progress in implementing the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) objectives and to decide key recommendations to be put to next year’s International Migration Review Forum.

Integrated migration governance should be a key goal and Ambrose Dery, Minister of Interior for Ghana, the Chair of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments, said it was essential African nations addressed trafficking in persons and its devastating consequences on migrants.

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“Vile stories on international media concerning migrant slavery, as well as mistreatment of young African domestic helps in some Gulf States, call for a reflection on appropriate actions to be taken with a view to finding a lasting solution to this persistent problem that leads to the loss of young Africans, without whom the continent cannot build a prosperous and peaceful future,” Dery said. “In Ghana, the contribution of migrants has played a great role in shaping our national development.”

Governments must address the root causes of trafficking and ensure the free movement of people in a safe, orderly and dignified manner. ECOWAS representatives emphasized the need to join forces and align approaches to prevent and counter smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons to promote rights-based management of migration.

The meeting, which ended Thursday, also heard that policies must be effectively applied by border officials to ease free movement while combatting trafficking in persons.

Aissata Kane, IOM’s Senior Regional Adviser for Sub Saharan Africa, said the Global Compact for Migration was a landmark, multilateral document. “It aims to catalyze and boost combined support and assistance for addressing legal and humanitarian challenges of migration and foster its positive social, cultural and economic dividends within and outside the ECOWAS region.”

READ  Horrors of asylum seekers (iii) The Nation’s intervention saves stranded female deportees, children

IOM has been working with all stakeholders at intergovernmental and national levels, as well as within the UN Network for Migration, to promote safe, orderly and dignified free movement of people and economic exchange among ECOWAS Member States.

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