On April 1, Canadian authorities free some prisoners from the Laval Immigration Detention Center in Quebec. Some have gone on hunger strikes to protest the lack of protection from COVID-19 in detention facilities. “We feel left out,” a man told Human Rights Watch. “We hear about new steps being taken, such as social distancing. But nothing has changed for us in detention; it’s like the steps aren’t meant for us, only for Canadians. “
Canada quick release some immigration prisoners are encouraging, but the seriousness of the situation requires a more systemic approach. Starting April 1, 64 prisoners remain in three Canadian detention facilities – down from 98 on March 25. Many immigration detainees – detained solely based on their immigration status – are in maximum security prisons, where social distance is even more challenging.
Even under ordinary circumstances, confinement causes many immigration prisoners to thrive mental health condition. They have no set release date or access to meaningful mental health care and rehabilitation services, and are under constant threat of deportation. This often exacerbates existing mental health conditions and previous trauma, especially for asylum seekers.
But the threat of COVID-19 made the situation worse. At the end of March, authorities confirmed an employee at the Toronto Immigration Holding Center tested positive for COVID-19 and began to show symptoms. A prisoner is then released from the same facility as well proven positive.
In the March 19 petition, immigration detainees begged to be released for fear of contamination from “security staff who deal with the outside world every day.” Detainees have no control over who enters the room where they are locked up, who touches the equipment they use to eat, or who searches them.
International organizations and advocates, including UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and European Commissioner for Human Rights, has asked the government to release immigration detainees. The Canadian government must be transparent about the alleged cases and confirmation of COVID-19 in detention and prison facilities, and recognize the real risk of outbreaks in this facility. Canadian authorities must work to ensure the immediate release of immigration detainees without the prospect of deportation, reduce risk through alternative detention, and prioritize the release of those at high risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19. The authorities must also ensure that those released have access to appropriate accommodation, support and health care.
While the government is urging Canadians to take serious steps to level the curve, immigration detainees beg the authorities to do the same.
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