On Friday 24 February, our refugee rights campaigner Alex Pagliaro held a live Q&A session our official Facebook page. She answered questions about her recent visits inside Australia's most remote detention centres, including Curtin, Christmas Island, and others throughout Western Australia.
Here's a selection of questions we answered during the chat.
Are there many families with children still in the detention centers?
There are more that 500 children, plus even more family members still in detention in Australia. Technically they are held in 'detention facilities' not 'detention centres' but as we saw on our trip, there are still fences, cameras, officers in these facilities. It really still is detention and not the right place for families.
Do you think it is possible to underestimate the amount of mental health provision that will be required by people who have been released from mandatory detention, and what sort of conditions should we predominantly be expecting to see people presenting with?
You're right it's important not to underestimate the amount of support that people are going to need when they are released from detention. Settlement agencies are telling us that people who come from detention are actually a lot more traumatised than people who come directly from overseas, so it really reiterates how damaging detention is. I'm not a mental health expert, but Amnesty would definitely would like to see a lot more work being done into what counselling etc people are going to need to overcome the effects of detention.
Did you visit Darwin Airport Lodge? Are many families there?
Yes, we did visit the lodge. There are currently 351 children and family members there.
What does Amnesty think about a system where after initial processing, asylum seekers are integrated into the community with a monitoring system similar to what parolees must do when they are released from prison?
That's pretty much exactly what we're asking for! It's not just the more humane option, it would also save a bucket load of money and mean that Australia stopped traumatising people who will mostly end up being Australian citizens.
How close are we to having an alternative to detention, are there working examples in Australia or overseas at the moment?
Australia is the only country with a policy of mandatory, indefinite detention of asylum seekers. So there are lots of examples of much better alternatives from overseas. What is even stranger, is that Australia itself has working ...alternatives in place - asylum seekers who arrive by plane live in the community not detention. Check this out the International Detention Coalition for more info on all this
I think the main barriers to change are still public attitudes and political will, but you're right this is slowly changing. l think it's just a matter of keeping the momentum going, putting more pressure on all MPs, and explaining the facts to friends and family who don't know them yet
Why does Amnesty, in arguing for the closure of mandatory detention, continue to support a limit of 30 day detention as an alternative? The Department of Immigration currently has a limit 90 day limit on detention yet the politics are such that these limits are completely ignored.
The 90 day standard refers to how long the Department aims to take to make a decision on a refugee claim, but you're right this is not properly adhered to at all. However, this is just a standard to be aimed for and not part of Australian law. What we are asking is that asylum seekers are not held any longer than necessary to complete initial health and identity checks, a process that should take no longer than 30 days. This means that detention is not arbitrary or indefinite.
How can Amnesty assist asylum seekers?
We do a lot of work around the large systemic issues. However, in some cases we do offer some support to individual asylum seekers. Our casework team focuses on providing country information reports tailored to each individuals’ specific claim.
What determines whether an asylum seeker in Australia is processed in community detention?
At the moment that decision rests with the Minister for Immigration. He has said the he will focus on long-term detainees, however we saw hundreds of asylum seekers on our trip who have been locked up for one or two years. So one of the things we hope comes out of our trip is more clarity around exactly how the move towards community processing is being implemented.
I am always dismayed by how common the practice of referring to people by numbers is. So de-humanising and damaging to mental health. Has Amnesty raised this issue with government as Serco continues the practice?
That was definitely something we looked into in each centre. What we heard was that it does still happen, but less than before. We also had that confirmed by local advocates that we met in each state. It's something we'll continue to monitor and talk to DIAC about.
- Read our findings from our recent detention centre tour, 24 February 2012.