With an ever-increasing number of asylum seekers being detained in remote centres at Darwin, Curtin and Christmas Island, Amnesty International decided it paramount to inspect the conditions of the detention centres and facilities.

Having been in touch with a number of families in the so-called “Alternative Places of Detention” (APOD), we also considered it of upmost importance to document the conditions that these families faced firsthand.

With the suspension on the processing of Afghani asylum seekers due to end in early October, we were accompanied on our visit to Darwin and Curtin by Amnesty International’s Afghan researcher, Halima Kazem. Halima used the trip to speak to a number of Afghans in detention about their experiences, and to collect research data to brief Australian government officials and members of the Independent Merits Review following her visit to the centres.

The Northern Immigration Detention Centre

On the 2 October, 2010, four delegates from Amnesty International visited the Northern Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in Darwin, which currently houses 363 people. The atmosphere at the IDC was still tense following a series of recent disturbances [1]. The centre was originally designed for the quick turnaround of Illegal Foreign Fishers. It is clear that significant improvements are required if the Northern IDC is to cater for the long term detention of asylum seekers.

We spoke to a number of asylum seekers inside the Northern IDC and – like virtually all the asylum seekers we were to meet in the coming days – they were extremely anxious about being separated from their families for a prolonged and undisclosed period of time. The wait and the uncertainty of their future weighed heavily on them.

The Asti Motel in DarwinThe Asti Motel in Darwin

Families in Detention

The following day we visited the families and unaccompanied minors detained in the Asti Motel and the Airport Lodge in Darwin. It is always a difficult experience seeing small children in detention and the psychological impact it is has on their parents. The physical condition of the Asti motel was particularly harsh, with virtually no room for the children to play. Many had not left the motel for months. Time and again the people we spoke with broke down in describing the toll that extended detention took on themselves and their children.

Curtin IDC

We left Darwin to fly to Broome, where we then had to drive two hours to the Curtin Air Force base. The heat was sweltering. During the two days of our visit to the Curtin IDC the temperature constantly hovered around 42 degrees. We were told it was only going to get hotter over the coming months. The desert centre resembled a giant construction site; its capacity is to be extended from 750 to 1,200.

The detainees from Afghanistan who had previously been subjected to the suspension of their claims were in far better spirits. Now they could finally begin the process of seeking protection after months of waiting. Many were still extremely anxious about the safety of the family they had left behind.

Christmas Island

Australia's detention centres

  1. Northern IDC - houses 363 people.
  2. Curtin IDC - capacity is being extended from 750 to 1,200.
  3. Christmas Island - 2,600 people are detained across various locations on Christmas Island.

After visiting Curtin we flew to Christmas Island via Perth. There are currently over 2,600 people detained across various locations on Christmas Island, so it was not surprising to see how overcrowded many of these centres were. The facilities cannot handle so many people. What was most confronting was the sheer number of individuals who had clearly been suffering both physically and psychologically from the conditions of prolonged detention. Many had been detained for over a year, and incidents of self-harm and suicide attempts were visibly on rise.

Our trip affirmed our view: it is clear that the long term detention of vulnerable people in remote detention centres is not only unsustainable, but is immensely damaging to those who are seeking our protection. It is time for Australia to look for genuinely humane alternatives.


Read these great blogs from our visits to the detention centres:

Further reading