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COVID-19 Fears Prompt Detainees in Australia to Plead to Be Released from Immigration Detention

People walk past a "Beach Closed" sign at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, on April 1, 2020. The beach remains closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Detainees in Australian immigration centers are pleading to be released because of COVID-19 fears. They say it is impossible for them to self-isolate and protect themselves from the disease.

Detainees at the Villawood immigration center in Sydney fear an outbreak of the new coronavirus inside the facility that houses more than 400 people would be impossible to control. They are pleading to be released, and some said they are so desperate they’ve gone on a hunger strike.

“We are not going to break or wreck anything, but this is the only form of way that we can reach out is by striking like this to do not eat in order to get some form of attention,” one detainee said. “No eat, no drink. We are sick of being in the dark and being in the shadows. We are human beings, so we urge you, we are pleading with the Australian government to act now. The time is now before it gets here and it is too late.”

In a letter to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, detainees insist they are living in a potential COVID-19 “death trap.”

“We ask the community and the prime minister and the lawyers to help our family and help us before the disease comes inside the detention (center) and sweep everybody,” a second detainee said.

So far there has been one confirmed case of the new coronavirus in Australia’s detention network.

“This COVID-19 virus is taking you out there and it hits in here like it is already the rumors are, we are all gone, we’re all going to die,” a third said. “We just get buried with nothing. They might as well just come and shoot the lot of us now.”

The government insists there are established plans for dealing with a potential coronavirus outbreak within Australia’s detention network. A spokesperson said detainees showing symptoms of COVID-19 would be quarantined and tested.

There are about 1,440 people, including those from Iran, New Zealand and Sudan, being held in detention on the Australian mainland. Forty percent are asylum seekers, while around 600 are being held for visa breaches.

The average length of time in detention is more than 500 days.