MONTREAL -- Thirty-four migrant detainees at the Laval immigrant holding centre are calling on officials to release them amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Solidarity Across Borders.

In a handwritten petition, sent on Thursday to federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) president John Ossowski and several provincial health ministers, the detainees expressed concern over staff potentially bringing in the virus as they come and go from the facilities.

“We believe that we are at high risk of contamination,” the letter reads. “Here, in the detention centre, we are in a confined space. Every day, we see the arrival of people, from everywhere, who have had no test to determine whether they are carrying the virus.” 

“For these reasons, we are asking to be released,” it continues. 

Dr. Nazila Bettache, with Caring for Social Justice, argues keeping detainees in confined spaces jeopardizes their health. 

“It is a public imperative to release them immediately,” Bettache insisted. 

Liliane Fall, whose brother is one of the petition’s signatories, adds, “Listening to the advice of the various experts, the recommendation that keeps coming up is ‘social distancing.’ This is not possible in the detention centre.” 

Isolated from the world after visits were cancelled due to the pandemic, detainees say they have limited access to both moral support and legal advice.

In-person review hearings have been replaced with phone calls, according to Solidatiry Across Borders. 

“Locking people inside this facility and taking away their freedom is unjustifiable to begin with, but to force people to remain inside in the midst of a pandemic is beyond unjust, it’s dangerous for everyone,” said Amy Darwish from Solidarity Across Borders. “This pandemic has exposed how interrelated we all are in society, within and across borders.”

The Canada Border Services Agency couldn't immediately be reached for comment.