Commonwealth Ombudsman to report on COVID-19 responses in detention facilities

Commonwealth Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe is investigating how detention facilities in Australia have acted to protect asylum seekers, refugees and others being held during the coronavirus pandemic, and whether any detainees should be released on health grounds.

“Staff from the Office visited the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation and the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation on Friday 22 May 2020, and will visit another four facilities in the next two weeks,” the office told Croakey on Tuesday, saying they were looking to “observe the way in which the Department of Home Affairs and its contracted providers are implementing their respective COVID-19 plans”.

“Given the public interest in this matter, the Ombudsman also intends to release a public statement in June outlining the Office’s observations from these visits along with any recommendations for improvement,” it said.

Human rights and health authorities have issued multiple warnings to the Australian Government in recent months that an outbreak of COVID-19 could prove catastrophic for detainees, staff and the broader community. Many have pointed to Singapore’s experience where an outbreak among migrant workers living in cramped quarters sparked a second wave.

Last month the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) filed a group complaint on behalf of 13 men with the Ombudsman, calling for an urgent inspection of detention facilities to examine the adequacy of conditions and measures being taken to mitigate and manage the dangers posed by COVID-19 to detainees and staff.

PIAC Senior Solicitor, Jane Leibowitz, told Croakey the group is hopeful that the Ombudsman will “work meaningfully with the Department of Home Affairs and its subcontractors to protect those it detains”. She noted his office is “charged with significant oversight and reporting functions”…

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