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A WOMAN diagnosed with coronavirus while being held in Yarl’s Wood detention centre sparked fresh calls today for all immigration detainees to be released.
The Home Office confirmed on Sunday that a detainee at the notorious immigration centre in Bedfordshire had tested positive for Covid-19.
Women for Refugee Women reported that many detainees there have underlying health conditions but have not been given any extra protection or advice.
One detainee said that no precautions had been taken until after the case was diagnosed. “So right now everyone is panicking,” she said. “We know there is a pandemic going on, and here we are not being given the means to protect ourselves.”
Other women with health problems expressed fears of dying from the virus.
The diagnosis supports fears held by campaign groups of an outbreak occurring in one of Britain’s crowded detention centres.
Last week, Detention Action took legal steps against the government to release all immigration detainees and suspend all new detentions. The group argued that the Home Office had failed to protect detainees from coronavirus and identify those who are vulnerable to the disease.
Evidence given in the legal challenge included a report by Professor Richard Coker of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, which warns that detention centres provide ideal incubation conditions for the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
But legal group Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) reported that one of its clients was told by the Home Office that he would not be released as the risk of contracting the virus was as high outside the centre as inside.
BID policy adviser Rudy Schulkind told the Star: “This is unreasonable and contradicts the Department of Health’s own guidance.
“This is typical of a department that has time and again failed to protect the lives of those held in immigration detention.”
In response to the legal action, the government has so far released about 300 detainees.
However, campaigners have criticised the Home Office for not acting fast enough and have called for all detainees to be released.
Migrant-rights campaigner Zita Holbourne said: “All of those detention centres, while we are in this crisis, should be closed; people should be allowed to go home to their families.
“There’s no practical reason for them to be held there other than treating them like prisoners — and that’s not supposed to be the purpose of detention centres.”
She added that all those released so far have been men without criminal records.
“There’s already a divide there in how they are treating people when, actually, what is relevant is: who is the most vulnerable,” Ms Holbourne said.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Immigration enforcement is responding to the unique circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak and decisions to detain are made on a case-by-case basis.”
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