Our refugee rights team have just returned from inspecting Australia's detention facilities. During their research trip they spoke directly with hundreds of asylum seekers
The research trip covered some of Australia's most remote detention facilities in Christmas Island, Curtin and Wickham Point. Our findings confirm what we've known along: long-term, indefinite detention is crushing people.
Here's a short round-up of our findings and recommendations:
- A maximum 30 day time limit is placed on the detention of asylum seekers, so that all asylum seekers are moved into the community once health, character and identity checks are complete.
- Remote and isolated immigration detention centres must be shut down as soon as possible.
- The shift towards processing asylum seekers in the community must be sped up - with long-term detainees, families and unaccompanied minors moved out as a priority.
- In all detention centres asylum seekers ability to communicate with the outside world must be significantly improved. Specifically, increases in access to both outbound and inbound telephones, Internet, external activities, and visits from the Australian community.
Long term detention is crushing people
Some asylum seekers are spending an unnecessarily long time in immigration detention. One man at Curtin Immigration Detention Centre (one of the most remote centres) had spent 831 days behind bars.
At each centre we saw time and time again that people who had spent months or even years behind the fences were experiencing extremely concerning mental conditions. Self harm, sleeping pills and talk of suicide had become a way of life.
A maximum time limit of 30 days should be placed on the detention of asylum seekers, so that they're moved into the community once health, character and identity checks are complete.
Conditions at all detention centres, particularly remote ones, must be significantly improved
Many centres, especially Northwest Point Immigration Detention Centre on Christmas Island, are overwhelmingly and unnecessarily prison-like. The centre is surrounded by high, heavy fencing and divided into smaller fenced-off compounds.
Access to phones and Internet - essential when people are locked up in remote locations - was limited in some cases. For example, at Curtin many phones were broken and the Internet was so slow that asylum seekers reported being unable to download essential legal documents.
Since Amnesty International’s last visit 14 months ago, an effort had been made at some centres to improve conditions. However these steps, such as increased greenery and more activities and excursions, simply cannot overcome the damage that long-term, indefinite detention inflicts on asylum seekers.
The shift towards community-based processing of asylum seekers must be expedited
Among the asylum seekers who had been detained for extended periods, self harm and suicides were talked about as a fact of life. The environment of detention makes it incredibly difficult for asylum seekers to understand and engage with the system and make decision that may have life or death consequences for them.
Community processing is much cheaper than detention, is much more humane than detention, and gives asylum seekers the chance to start contributing to Australian society while they wait for their refugee status to be assessed.
There are two main forms of community processing that will be used:
Community detention is where asylum seekers are looked after by Australian welfare agencies such as Red Cross. There are some restrictions on movement such as reporting requirements and curfews, but they're not under constant supervision like in a detention centre.
Bridging visas where asylum seekers live freely in the Australian community. With bridging visas, people have work rights so they can support themselves, and some can access short term community support programs which provide various levels of assistance with basic needs and services.
Read / download our full findings and recommendations:
We've seen first-hand the horrific effects prolonged, indefinite detention is having on asylum seekers. Now our government needs to hear from the Australian community: