The sudden lockdown this summer of 3,000 public housing residents in Melbourne, Australia, violated human rights laws, an investigation has found.
The report, released on Thursday by the ombudsman in the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, said that residents of the nine towers, many of whom are immigrants or members of minority groups, had been effectively placed under house arrest for 14 days in July during the city’s second wave of coronavirus infections. They were left without adequate food, medication and access to fresh air, the report said.
The lockdown was not “compatible with residents’ human rights, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty,” Deborah Glass, the Victorian ombudsman, wrote. The report recommended that the state government apologize publicly to tower residents.
Though Australia has won global praise for slowing the spread of the coronavirus in the country, the report was a scathing rebuke of state officials’ decision to apply stringent measures to the public housing residents, who said they felt trapped and traumatized. Several described it as a “nightmare.”
“We grew up here; we were born here,” one resident, who was not identified by his real name in the report, told investigators. “It felt like, ‘Are we in a safe place anymore, or not?’” he added. “We felt unworthy.”
Melbourne as a whole was under one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in the world, lasting 111 days. The citywide lockdown ended in late October, and the state of Victoria has now gone 48 days without any locally transmitted cases. But the tower lockdown was much more literal, with police officers preventing residents from leaving their homes.
Daniel Andrews, the state premier, defended the tower lockdown on Thursday, saying, “We took the steps that the experts said were necessary to save lives.”
Ebyon Hassan, 32, who lives in one of the towers in the suburb of North Melbourne and lost her father to the coronavirus in late July, said she and other residents had been extremely disappointed by the lack of government services in the lockdown’s aftermath.
“Everyone is just trying to heal and recover,” she said. “An apology is the least they could do.”
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