Desperate immigration detainees have undergone three separate hunger strikes in a Montreal-area detention facility since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to protest what they feel are life-threatening conditions. Last month, at least five detainees in the facility contracted Covid-19, and on March 1, seven went on a five-day hunger strike.
“We are distraught and very fearful for our health. … it is only a matter of time before we are all infected,” they said. “This is a call for help. We want to be treated with dignity and above all we want to be protected in this time of pandemic like every Canadian citizen.”
“Marlon,” from Colombia, told Human Rights Watch that after testing positive for Covid-19 in February, authorities placed him and two others who also tested positive in conditions akin to solitary confinement for about a week. Marlon said he was locked in a “small and dirty cell,” which he could only leave to use the bathroom or make 15-minute phone calls once every two hours in the presence of a guard from whom he could not physically distance.
Marlon said he had a fever for several days but did not receive any medical attention besides painkillers and having his temperature taken. “I felt powerless and anxious. I was having trouble breathing,” he said. Despite the raging pandemic, Marlon said it was impossible to stay safe from the virus in the detention facility. “Ventilation is inadequate because all the windows are shut, the sanitary conditions are poor, and guards sometimes remove their masks. … I felt it was inconceivable that they put us in these conditions where we were unable to protect ourselves from the virus.”
In response to the Covid-19 outbreak at the Montreal-area facility in February, authorities reportedly placed at least 12 detainees in isolation. According to Marlon and Solidarity Across Borders, a migrant justice network that works closely with immigration detainees in the Montreal-area detention facility, detainees were not tested again before they were transferred from solitary confinement back into shared spaces.
As one advocate from Solidarity Across Borders noted, “People should not have to starve just to bring attention to the injustice happening in immigration detention, especially in the middle of a pandemic.” If authorities cannot protect detainees’ health and human rights in detention, they should be released.