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Submission to National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

Hotham Mission


Alternative approaches to asylum seekers:
Hotham Mission as a Model of Community Release

Contents

1) Background to Hotham's work with asylum seekers
2) Asylum Seekers in the Community
3) Addressing the needs of asylum seekers in the community
4) The transition from detention to the community
5) Positive Outcomes
6) Appendix 1: General Community Release Issues
7) Appendix 2: Summary of the Swedish Model of Detention

Asylum Seeker Project, Hotham Mission
2 Elm St, North Melbourne 3051
Tel: 93268343 Fax: 93268030
Email: asp@sub.net.au
Web: http://www.vic.uca.org.au/linkup
Contact person: Grant Mitchell

This paper addresses the second term of reference of the HREOC inquiry into children in detention, namely what alternatives to detention should be developed or implemented. The paper looks at the work of Hotham Mission in Melbourne as an example of an alternative approach to asylum seekers.


Background

The Asylum Seeker Project at Hotham Mission in Melbourne has been providing accommodation and support for asylum seekers in the community for almost 6 years. The Project aims to build a comprehensive framework for community support and to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for asylum seekers in Victoria.

The majority of asylum seekers we work with are 'ineligible' for Red Cross ASAS payments and are without work rights or Medicare. Primarily they have either recently applied for a protection visa or have appealed beyond the RRT.

The Project currently works with 120 asylum seekers. Of those, 57 are houses and 89 receive monthly emergency relief. Furthermore we work with around 30 asylum seekers currently in detention, both support work with clients that have moved in and out of detention and in negotiating bridging visa options for asylum seekers at high risk in detention. The Project currently works with 42 asylum seeker children and youths.

CLIENTS
Families
23
Couples
7
Adults
78
Youth
20
LinkUp
32
ER
89
Housing
57
TOTAL
120

The Asylum Seeker Project is thus involves over 200 people, including asylum seekers, volunteers and staff, as well as more contacts from community groups, churches, and the many potential volunteers wanting to support and work with asylum seekers in the community.

Housing Work:

The Asylum Seeker Project currently houses 57 asylum seekers in the community on very limited funding. There are 26 people living in 7 homes managed by the Project, all of which are either manses or church-owned properties, including 2 family houses, 2 single male houses, 1 single female house and 2 single mother houses. 30 people are housed through interagency agreements, including 3 nomination rights with transitional housing, 3 agreements with church housing, 4 youth housing agreements and 7 non-paying boarder arrangements. A Letter of Agreement is signed by all parties involved and tenants must adhere to the Project's Housing Guidelines. Housing is normally for 8 months or until other suitable accommodation is secured.

Asylum Seeker Project Based Housing Interagency Based Housing Non-Paying Boarder Arrangement

Male Housing

Seddon - 5

Youth Housing 4
Wombat, Essendon, Keilor, Footscray
Church -based - 6

Female Housing

Ivanhoe - 4

Agency-based housing 1
St Vincent THM
LinkUp - based - 3

Family Housing

Pascoe Vale - 4

Cantebury - 4

Unit 1 - 5

Unit 2 - 3

Unit 3 - 3

Church-based housing

Infullife - 3

UNOH Mission Springvale - 6

Collins St, Baptist - 2

Outer Easter AS Network,
Blackburn - 4

 
   
Total:
57

Asylum seekers are assisted by the project in various ways:

Our Asylum Seeker Emergency Relief Program provides cash relief, food and meat vouchers, travel and phone cards on a monthly basis. We also assist with bills and emergency medical or housing issues. All funding for our housing and emergency relief program is donated by churches and the wider community.

We have an Outreach and Housing Team made up of trained social and community development workers with experience in working with asylum seekers that provide visitation, referral, orientation and housing support to our clients.

The LinkUp Program currently supports 41 socially isolated asylum seekers in the community by 'linking' them with support volunteer families and individuals. Over 300 people have attended our training program, run together with Red Cross ASAS and Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, some are LinkUp volunteers and some are now assisting the Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre. The Project also runs a number of support groups, such as the Young Asylum Seeker (YAS) Group and the Asylum Seeker Mothers Group.

Integral to this work is raising community awareness, promoting policy change and advocating for an approach to asylum seekers both in detention and in the community that respects their basic human rights.

Grant Mitchell- Project Coordinator

Stancea Vichie- Project Development

Ruth Wardlaw- LinkUp Support

Marilyn Porter, Sacha Goldman, Emelia and Kevin Lawson
- Housing Support

Nancy Morena, Oliva Walker, Kieran Gill, Katherine Marshall,
Victoria Rodin, Juan Peake, Ciara Cross - Outreach Support

Stina Kelly- Student Placement

Administrative Assistant - Sue Andersson

LinkUp Volunteers - 46

The Asylum Seeker Project is under the auspice of Hotham Mission and is overseen by a Management Committee. This is made up of representatives actively involved in the asylum seeker field such as Outreach Mission, Brigidine Sisters, East Kew Refugee Support Group and the Uniting Church Synod Victoria. The Committee reports to the Hotham Mission Committee. An advisory group consisting of members of the Refugee Council (Sherron Dunbar) and Foundation for Survivors of Torture (Paris Aristotle), provides policy advice, support and direction as required.

Asylum Seekers in the community

Not all asylum seekers are in detention. Asylum seekers who arrive with legitimate documentation and are 'immigration cleared' are free to live in the community after lodging a protection visa application. In fact the majority of all asylum seekers are living lawfully in the community on bridging visas. These 'on-shore asylum seekers' consist primarily of 2 groups: a) those granted work visas and b) those not granted work rights, usually as they have missed the 45 day rule to apply for asylum. Those with work rights may be lucky to find a job if they have sufficient English, however no English training is provided for them.

Very few asylum seekers in the community are eligible for any government funding, welfare payments, education or housing subsidies. The Red Cross are federally funded to provide assistance to only a small group of asylum seekers who have been waiting for their first decision for more than 6 months and who have not appealed beyond the Refugee Review Tribunal. The majority however are without such assistance. All asylum seekers who appeal to the Immigration Minister for their application to be assessed on humanitarian grounds are denied the right to work, income support or Medicare.

There are around 400 'ineligible' asylum seekers in Victoria. Many of these are completely dependent on family and friends for support. The Asylum Seeker Project works primarily with those who have no family or community support and no other means of supporting themselves.

Asylum seekers without support or work rights must rely completely on the support and resources of charities and welfare agencies, often church-based. This group is barred from assistance from Migrant Resource Centres and other settlement services. They are also not eligible for mainstream services like public housing or basic medical coverage. While a considerable amount of tax-payers funds are spent on immigration detention costs, almost no government funds are provided for asylum seekers living lawfully in the community, who make up the majority of all asylum seekers.

This group of asylum seekers is especially vulnerable to homelessness and ill-health and in most cases they are completely dependent on churches and over-stretched welfare agencies. A separate submission outlining Hotham's work with asylum seeker children and the impact of ineligibility on this group has also been submitted.

Background to these needs

Half way through the year 2000, the government began releasing refugees from detention centres on Temporary Protection Visas, with no access to public housing or settlement support. In fact many were left in front of back-packer hostels with enough money for a few days accommodation. Since that time homelessness has increasingly become a problem, with both asylum seekers and TPV holders sharing the few transitional and crisis housing options available. Unaccompanied youths and single mothers and their children were those most affected. The Asylum Seeker Project responded by focusing on the most vulnerable group, asylum seekers with no income or family support. Empty church housing and manses have provided the basis to our housing work, together with interagency agreements with transitional and youth housing, as well as non-paying boarder arrangements.

The effects of the TPV category on asylum seekers in the community have been enormous due to almost no settlement services being available for both groups. A number of traditional welfare agencies, once receptive to help asylum seekers living lawfully in the community, started turning them away. Many agencies are overstretched, with some now having policies stating they do not provide emergency relief for asylum seekers. Others provide assistance that is difficult for asylum seekers to rely on, perhaps once every three months or first in first served. Consistently we find that agencies make the assumption that clients must be eligible for some Centrelink payment or must have relatives to support them. This is not the case for our clients. For individuals with no work rights, no income support and no family or friends to support them, these policies can be devastating.

Addressing the needs of asylum seekers in the community

To respond to this Hotham Mission started the Asylum Seeker Emergency Relief Program (ASERP) in the middle of 2000, providing monthly ongoing emergency relief, such as vouchers, cash assistance, Met and Phone cards and paying utilities, medical and other emergency costs.

The Asylum Seeker Project at Hotham Mission is now supporting over 96 asylum seekers with no income of any kind and with no family or relatives to support them here in Australia. This group also has no medicare. Many are children and young people.

The program builds upon the existing support for asylum seekers in extreme poverty in the community, such as:

  • Food Bank, Material Aid Support - Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) (Footscray); St Marks Community Centre (Fitzroy); Asylum Seeker Centre (Dandenong); UNOH Mission (Springvale)
  • Housing Support - Asylum Seeker Project (ASP), Hotham Mission; Brigidine Sisters; UNOH Mission
  • Medical assistance - Bula Bula Health Project (ASRC) - referral; Red Cross ASAS program & Asylum Seeker Project - limited funds for emergency assistance.
  • Referral - Red Cross ASAS Program; Asylum Seeker Project; Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre (Starting early 2002)

While there are other agencies providing support, this tends to be irregular and does not usually entail providing important items such as cash relief and food vouchers. The Asylum Seeker Emergency Relief Program aims to act as a supplement to ensure a regular minimum is allocated to this vulnerable group. The focus is particularly on the needs of clients having difficulties accessing the above services, such as single mothers, unaccompanied youths or unwell single adults. ASERP is distributed after a needs assessment at the Asylum Seeker Project at Hotham Mission.

Based solely on donations, the program currently costs around $11,000 per month to finance.

The Transition from Detention to the Community

Since late 2000, the Asylum Seeker Project has been providing housing and assistance to a number of asylum seekers released from detention on bridging visas.

These asylum seekers fall into two main categories:

  • Those released for psychological reasons
  • Those detained for breaching their bridging visa requirements

Overall, the Project provides post-release support, such as housing, referral and emergency relief, to a total of 27 asylum seekers released on bridging visas, including 6 children. 12 were released for psychological reasons, 2 were released as unaccompanied minors and 13 were released after breaching their bridging visa requirements or after paying a bond.

In 14 of these cases, the project negotiated or assisted in their early release, 9 for psychological reasons and 5 who had breached their bridging visa requirements.

Of these 27 people, 26 were released without work rights and 1 released with work rights. Bar one, all of these asylum seekers were released on a Bridging Visa E. To our knowledge, bar one person, none of these asylum seekers released on bridging visas have undergone the security and police checks undertaken on receiving a protection visa.

The Process of Release

There seems to have been 2 main ways of negotiating the release of detainees:

  • Individual Assessment/Negotiations - Primarily psychological
  • Provision of Support- Primarily for those who have worked unlawfully or breached their visa requirements

1) Individual Assessment/Negotiations

After an incident of self-harm or hospitalisation an independent psychological assessment is made. A decision may be made by DIMIA as to whether the asylum seeker needs to be released into the community on a bridging visa. This is generally after the consulting psychologist at the IDC has made a report.

DIMIA may also make a decision following a psychological evaluation at a lawyer's request regarding their refugee claim, as it may be discovered that there are serious concerns for the person's mental health.

If an asylum seeker is hospitalized, the request may be for a community treatment order or may be released into the care of an agency or individual who has had prolonged contact with the person while in detention. A provision of support and a care plan may be required in some cases. These are also the same principles used for medical grounds.

2) Provision of Support

A letter of support is written assuring the detainee will not need to work on release as all major needs will be provided for by the Project. This involves written submissions to the MRT as well as negotiations and written support to Compliance. If the case is taken to the Federal Court then further information may be provided by the Project.

Before releasing a detainee DIMA's Compliance section require a guarantee that the Project will be responsible for:

1. Providing a fixed address

2. Financial assistance and material aid

3. Assistance for medical or health issues

4. Some level of supervision and compliance

5. Make the person available on a final negative decision

It is at Compliance's discretion whether a document may need to be signed assuring the above.

1,2,3) Housing, Material Aid and Medical

Asylum Seekers released to the Project's care are treated equally as those in the community, with both provision of housing and general support and assistance. The Asylum Seeker Project and the Brigidine Sisters are now working together with a house in Albert Park specifically for males released from detention on bridging visas. Emergency Relief and a limited provision of funds for emergency health are available for those who require assistance. An Asylum Seeker Community Health Centre, Bula Bula made up of volunteer medical practitioners, is established in the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Footscray to assist those without Medicare.

4,5) Supervision and Compliance

Aspects of supervision and 'immigration compliance' include encouraging asylum seekers to comply with decisions. This includes ensuring they have travel cards to register with DIMIA's Compliance Section, according to their Bridging Visa requirements. The Housing Support workers have regular contact with the clients and monthly housing meetings. The clients must also visit ASP at Hotham Mission once a month to receive their emergency relief and for ongoing need and risk assessments. ASP and other agencies involved, such as Foundation House, often make an attempt to explore all possible immigration outcomes with the client. This has proved easier for clients we have worked extensively with from the outset. It is much more difficult to gain the trust and confidence to explore these issues with clients who have had significant time in detention or who we only have had contact with at the final stage/s.

We do not inform Compliance of the movements or actions of our clients and neither are we in a position to implement immigration decisions. We do inform Compliance and On Shore Protection however if an asylum seeker is at risk of self-harm and on a final decision we may discuss with DIMIA options for the client.

Settlement and Return

Of the approximately 150 asylum seekers we have worked with since February 2000, 10 have voluntarily repatriated, of which 3 have voluntarily repatriated to a third country prior to a final decision. 7 asylum seekers have voluntarily repatriated to their home country on a final decision after we negotiated with Compliance that we arrange the travel arrangements and that they not be detained. This allows for their return with dignity and keeps them out of detention.

In these cases we bought the ticket, arranged their departure and in some cases arranged for Red Cross or family members to meet them on arrival. Most of them contacted us afterwards to let us know how they were. An important reason for asylum seekers in the community to be able to be provided with the flight home is that they will not be exempt from entering the country for 5 years, as occurs if they are detained and then returned. This is particularly important if they have family or relatives in Australia.

3 have been detained and forcibly returned to their country of origin.

There have been 20 asylum seekers who settled after receiving a positive decision. 16 have been granted permanent protection visas and 4 temporary protection visas. Those granted permanent visas that have had the support of the Project throughout the process have settled extremely well, with 6 working, one studying at University and the remaining have only recently received decisions. Those granted Temporary Protection Visas have had a more difficult transition in settlement, particularly those unable to be reunited with spouses and children.

2 asylum seekers have moved interstate, while the remainder are awaiting a decision, either from the RRT, Federal or High Court or the Minister. No asylum seekers have absconded.

Challenges

The major challenge right now is to fully utilize the bridging visa exemption grounds for unaccompanied minors and those at high risk both psychologically and medically in detention. This requires a discreet and united effort by key players, such as childcare services, lawyers, barristers, mental health professionals, DIMIA, housing and asylum seeker support agencies, chaplains and ethnic communities. With the starting point being:

1) Discretion between all agencies involved

2) Building a trusting relationship with DIMIA

3) Negotiations with Compliance

4) Community Release Support (Housing, living assistance, medical support etc)

5) Clear Care Options.

The importance of this is two-fold, both to ensure the release of high-risk asylum seekers from detention, but also to build the foundations to a reception regime whereby asylum seekers can live in the community with adequate support.

There are a number of challenges for the Asylum Seeker Project in working with asylum seekers in the community. Most importantly the fact that the financial component of assisting a large number of asylum seekers with no income would be alleviated by allowing work rights. This would also ensure all asylum seekers have access to Medicare. Also the expansion of ASAS to cover individuals often unable to work such as single mothers and unaccompanied youths in school would significantly help to reduce acute homelessness and poverty of these groups.

An increased difficulty has been that most are released on a Bridging Visa E, with no work rights or income support, yet some are required to register at DIMIA compliance up to 3 times per week. This costs us over $1000 a month just to cover travel cards.

Also the cost of arranging for return travel is beyond the scope of any community-based project. It has been helpful that in some cases an asylum seeker can be granted 2 weeks work rights to help pay for their ticket home, however this is rarely adequate. A cheaper and better way is allowing asylum seekers the right to work until the final stage of the decision making process. We have had two cases of asylum seekers released from detention wanting to return home voluntarily but not having work rights to pay for the travel or the issuance of a new passport. As there is no one with the money to assist the person their only option is to return to detention where the fares are paid. As most clients do not wish to return to detention, they are forced to appeal further.

There have been some inconsistencies with Compliance at the 417 stage, particularly when the Minister has refused to use his discretion. Clients are rarely informed of their immigration options and issues of return are not adequately discussed. It has proven difficult to negotiate the release of unauthorised arrivals at the 417 Ministerial stage, who are not eligible for any bridging visa. This is particularly important for those in detention not coping psychologically. Although in extreme cases they may be detained elsewhere, the practicalities of this have proven difficult because hospitals or other places where they may be held are required to ensure they will supervise and restrain the client if required. This would be alleviated if they could be exempted and be able to apply for a bridging visa. (See Appendix 1: General Community Release Issues)

Positive Outcomes

The work at Hotham Mission demonstrates on a micro-level how community/church based agencies are able to provide comprehensive and ongoing support for asylum seekers in the community while providing some reasurrance for decision-makers. The Project members have seen many positive outcomes in our work, despite the challenges, limitations and difficulties in working with a client group that have no income/Medicare and who may find themselves returned to detention or their country of origin.

All the asylum seekers released into our care for psychological reasons have made encouraging improvements, due in part to the joint work of mental health practitioners, the LinkUp volunteer program and the supportive environment in place, such as our Project and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

While it has been far more challenging to facilitate the release of unaccompanied minors on bridging visas, much work has been done to develop consistent and comprehensive Community Care Plans. There definitely is the ability and capacity to address the needs of this group if released into the community on bridging visas. This was outlined recently with the offer by 12 large welfare agencies in Victoria to collaborate and provide their services if the remaining unaccompanied minors in detention centres around Australia are released. Hotham Mission has also been involved in negotiations between DIMIA and DHS regarding an unaccompanied minor in Curtin Detention Centre.

The LinkUp program is a perfect example of a community based volunteer structure that assists and supports asylum seekers. This has been both with asylum seekers in the community and by visiting and forging community links with asylum seekers in detention prior to release. LinkUp operates by breaking down social isolation and expanding networks of support into the community, while ensuring visibility and wider understanding in the community. Furthermore the LinkUp program has been extremely beneficial in its supportive role for children and young asylum seekers who are often isolated in the community.

A recent survey of LinkUp volunteers indicated that over 97% found that the experience was positive for both the asylum seeker and the volunteer and that most had said they have become friends for life. All respondents felt LinkUp was an important means for asylum seekers to gain important contacts and supports and for the wider community to gain an understanding of the asylum seeker experience and to breakdown myths.

We have also had an extremely high percentage of our clients complying with negative decisions and registering with Compliance, much of this resulting from the trust fostered among our clients. We have worked in a manner that resembles caseworkers in empowering our clients to make the few decisions they can and advocating for them between service providers and DIMIA. In ensuring asylum seekers have adequate legal representation and are aware of the immigration process we have found that they are more likely to feel they have had a fair hearing. Moreover by providing further support, such as following-up on return or organising for Red Cross to meet them the asylum seeker is greatly assisted to make the difficult journey home and allows for third country options to be explored on a final negative decision. Of course, this has proved easier for clients we have worked with and supported from the initial stages, an argument for consistent and ongoing case management of asylum seekers both in detention and in the community.

The structure of the Asylum Seeker Project at Hotham Mission is in many ways similar to the Swedish 'reception centre' concept. The coordinator previously worked for the Swedish Migration Board in both their reception and detention centres. Given that Sweden also has a mandatory detention policy for all unauthorised arrivals, much emphasis is placed on the extent of time and for what reasons asylum seekers are detained. In the Swedish context this means detention only for the period of identity, health and security checks and a final negative decision if the asylum seeker is deemed a high risk to abscond. Furthermore it is stipulated that children shall not be detained for longer than 6 days. There is thus much energy placed on the important role of the transition from detention to the community. This is achieved primarily through preparatory work and ongoing case management of asylum seekers and coordination and negotiation between agencies, departments and community groups. It is a thorough and fair approach that has proved very successful in Sweden and extremely beneficial for asylum seeker children. (See appendix 2)

Hotham Mission has modelled much of its housing and support work on this model, such as:

  • Visiting individuals and families in detention and gaining contact prior to release.
  • Assigning all asylum seekers an 'outreach' worker for ongoing contact, referral and support.
  • Living assistance linked to monthly contact and assessment at the central office.
  • A mediation role between department, service providers and the asylum seeker.
  • Empowering and preparing asylum seekers for all possible immigration outcomes.

Based on the experience of the Asylum Seeker Project working with both asylum seekers in the community and those released from detention, there is no reason why asylum seekers in detention, particularly children, family units, young people and those not coping with the detention system could not be released into the community. Such a release would have benefits for both the asylum seeker and the wider community. Some of these benefits include:

  • Assisting the settlement of those granted refugee status
  • Reducing public outcry over the prolonged detention of children
  • Reducing the risk of re-traumatisation of those psychologically at risk
  • Allowing for more a flexible response to those at risk in the detention environment
  • Reducing costs to the tax-payer of prolonged detention

But most importantly this approach would comply with Article 37 (b) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: "No child shall be deprived of his liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time….."

Grant Mitchell
Project Coordinator
25/4/02


Appendix 1

General Community Release Issues

There are two major areas that need to be considered in regards to any release of asylum seekers from immigration detention centres in Australia: firstly, considerations under the current system, and secondly, general considerations under a reformed system whereby certain responsibility is handed to welfare/community agencies.

Current Detention System

Under the current system of detention, the only avenues for release are the provision of a Temporary Protection or Humanitarian Visa, or review of immigration detention and issuance of a bridging visa under the following criteria:

1) Minors with adequate community care

2) Special Needs: Medical/Psychological, Torture grounds

3) Persons over 75

4) Spouse is an Australian citizen

5) No primary decision within 6 months

Also Immigration Cleared 'detainees' who have breached visa requirements may approach the MRT, Federal Court or Compliance may release them on a bond.

The grounds of eligibility for bridging visas for unauthorised arrivals have not been exercised to any great extent. There have been a number of cases of people released for psychological reasons, often after their situation has become acutely critical. Maribyrnong detention centre has also seen more releases than any other centre. Others who have been released from detention tend to be people who have breached a visa requirement and have had a knowledge of the system, contacts, reasonable english and an ability to raise money for a bond. There are however currently a number of unaccompanied minors in detention and arguably many more detainees who could fulfill the exemption grounds for a bridging visa. A number of groups and individuals have been working to help facilitate the release of those at high risk in immigration detention centres. But a more concerted and coordinated effort is needed.

Experience has shown that to be able to successfully assist with a release a number of factors are required:

  • Discretion between all agencies involved
  • Building a trusting relationship with DIMIA
  • Negotiations with Compliance
  • Community Release Support (Housing, living assistance, medical support etc)
  • Clear Care Options
  • Collaboration of childcare services, lawyers, barristers, mental health professionals, housing and asylum seeker support agencies, detention centre chaplains and ethnic communities.

Asylum Seekers released from detention under these exemption criteria are generally released on a Bridging Visa E, which denies the right to work rights, medicare and any government benefit. The agency or individual who undertakes the provision of support must agree to provide all housing, medical and living assistance.

There are many obstacles facing the release of children from detention under the current system as namely it is generally decided that it is in the child's best interest to remain with their parents in detention. For unaccompanied minors challenges have included uncertainty as to the procedures and protocols, lack of adequate community care plans, difficulties for community groups and state child protection agencies to work together and issues around guardianship and delegation of that guardianship on release. Furthermore due to the lack of rights and entitlements of asylum seekers in the community there has been some hesitancy for authorities to allow for the release of children from detention, as they are essentially released with no provision for medicare or income support.

Considerations for welfare/community agencies

Any move by established welfare agencies to take on the responsibility of community support for asylum seekers requires lobbying to allow for the right to work, the right to medicare and the right to adequate living assistance for all asylum seekers living in the community.

The main areas requiring active consideration include:

Health Issues: This includes access to Medicare and mainstream services, as well as specialised a Refugee Health Team, for independent, trauma sensitive health assessments and counselling.

Housing Options: Cluster housing, open hostels, community/church housing/ transitional housing

Living allowance: Various possibilities to be explored, such as Income Support/Entitlement Card/Voucher System/Centrelink/Work Rights. The current Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (ASAS) could be used as a model of support.

Education/Recreation: Issues such as appropriateness of same-aged schooling for primary aged children with little English. After extensive ESL and special tuition they should be placed in classes according to their level of education.

Community Agencies/Volunteers: The composition, role and coordination of volunteer support and social orientation, similar to the Community Resettlement Support Scheme with links to ethnic communities

Appropriate staff training Training in working with working with trauma and cross cultural issues.

Commonwealth funding is obviously required to cover these services.

A major consideration for welfare agencies is the issue of 'absconding' and immigration procedures on a final negative decision. Under the current system of release into the community DIMIA generally requires that agencies/individuals agree to 'make available' the asylum seeker on a negative decision and in some cases to arrange travel arrangements to leave the country. This can pose huge ethical dilemmas on agencies. Welfare agencies would need to clearly spell out their inability to implement immigration decisions and to clearly define roles, particularly in the final stages of the determination process. The need for a caseworker system to make individual assessments and to 'track' asylum seekers in the community is needed. The responsibility of DIMIA needs to be highlighted, particularly Immigration Compliance in supervision requirements and On-shore Protection in organising return travel

A major challenge is the need to bridge the enormous differences between current detention and community practices: A dichotomy between the large amount spent on our current detention system as opposed to the tiny amount spent on asylum seekers in the community; The often inadequate provisions and services in detention as opposed to the lack of provisions and services for asylum seekers in the community. Any realistic attempt to discuss alternative detention models in Australia must address this gap and attempt to find linkages between detention and community. This includes not only practical issues such as housing and health options in the community, but larger issues of community education and understanding.

Justice for Asylum Seekers (JAS) Alliance' Detention Working Group
Contact: Grant Mitchell (03 93268343)


Appendix 2

Summary of the Swedish Model of Detention

Swedish Refugee and Migration Policy has been through a number of changes in the past 20 years, most recently being the division of immigration and settlement policies into two different departments - Migration Board and Integration Board. Simultaneously certain immigration responsibilities have been handed over to the Migration Board from the Federal Police, including detention practices. Since 1996 the Swedish government has implemented a number of changes to create a refugee policy that provides a legal and social framework for a humane and integrated approach to reception, detention, determination, integration and return.

Certain minimum standards in detention and return procedures have been established which are undeniably rooted in the state's consciousness of fundamental universal rights for all within the nation-state. Swedish law states that all who are held in detention shall be treated humanely with their dignity respected. [1] People smuggling and the risk of asylum seekers absconding, while taken seriously, are not overemphasised, nor is detention used as a deterrent. Detention however is used in the initial period to determine the identity of those that have sought asylum without identification, for investigation and to realise return. This however must be done with sensitivity and with civil-rights not being infringed upon beyond freedom of movement.

Previous problems in Swedish detention centres, such as including riots, mass hunger strikes and worker safety have been addressed due to comprehensive changes by the Swedish government following an inquiry in 1997. The changes included:

1) The removal of private contractors and the police from the detention centres

2) Dividing detention into 3 categories: initial health, security and health checks; investigation; and for realising return for individuals at high risk of absconding.

3) Implementing a caseworker system aimed at need and risk assessment and preparing detainees for all immigration outcomes

4) Increasing transparency in management and operation, with centres to be run more like closed institutions than prisons.

5) Ensuring all staff are trained to work with asylum seekers and show appropriate cultural and gender sensitivity and respect to all detainees.

6) Increasing access for NGOs, clergy, researchers, counsellors and the media.

7) Allowing for freedom of information, such as access to internet, NGOs and the option to speak to the media

8) Ensuring legal counsel and the right to appeal is available

9) Ensuring no children are held in detention for extended periods and removing families as soon as possible.

If an asylum seeker living in the community is assessed at being a high risk to abscond just prior to receiving a final decision they will be placed in detention. The caseworker system has also encouraged failed refugee claimants in Sweden to comply and return after a final decision in a number of ways:

1) By providing 'motivational counselling', including coping with a decision and preparation to return

2) Providing three options to asylum seekers: voluntary repatriation; escort by caseworkers; or escort by police.

3) Providing incentives for those who chose to voluntarily repatriate, including allowing time to find a third country of resettlement, paying for return flights, including domestic travel and allowing for some funds for resettlement.

The Swedish refugee determination process has also been successful in reducing the appeal time and the need for asylum seekers to access the courts. This has been achieved by:

1) The incorporation of a humanitarian and 'other protection needs' category at the initial decision-making stage.

2) Allowing for an independent multi-member tribunal to review the initial decision on both 'convention' and other grounds.

3) Ensuring all asylum seekers are represented by legal counsel all both stages of the refugee determination process.

Sweden is not a "soft touch" country in regard to detention or deportation issues. Enforcement of policy is a serious concern for the Government and the Migration Board, with Sweden having the highest level of returns on negative decisions in Europe, at over 80%. Over 76% of this group return voluntarily. The remainder, around 23% are handed over to the police, who only in extreme cases psychically restrain deportees. No deportee is chemically restrained. [2] Major incidents of violence, riots and mass hunger strikes have not occurred since the Migration Board took over detention centres in 1997 and introduced changes to policy and practice. The incidence of suicide attempts has also decreased and there has been little animosity between staff and detainees. There has proven to be a high level of compliance with decisions with very few asylum seekers absconding under supervision. A system of release into the community, after initial health and security checks, has brought significant reduction in the use of tax payers' money and in public outcry. Sweden now has the lowest levels of illegal immigrants living in the community in Europe, with research showing that resettled refugees integrate quickly into the community with no increase in levels of welfare dependency or crime. [3]

An integrated, humane approach to refugee policy leads to less animosity and fewer problems in detention centres and a safer working environment. It helps to effectively enforce expulsion orders and more importantly helps those granted refugee status and residency to integrate more quickly into society. The link between immigration and settlement is taken seriously in Sweden, with the way individuals are treated during the immigration process directly related to how they adjust and settle into the new country.

The key to the success of Sweden's integrated approach is its streamlined refugee determination process and its caseworker system, which oversees an asylum seeker's journey throughout both reception and detention and onwards to either return or settlement. It is a system based on informing and empowering the asylum seeker and assisting bureaucratic decision-makers to make informed decisions as to whether detention or reception is required and has ensured that clients are prepared for either return or settlement.

Probably the most important lesson to be learned from the Swedish experience is that a healthy migration policy is not based on deterrence or on restrictive policies or visas but allows for an expeditious refugee determination process and effectively realises settlement or return. It is a system based on treating asylum seekers humanely and with a uniformity of rights and entitlements irrespective of the means of arrival, allowing for the best possible outcome for both those seeking asylum and for the wider community. It is a system that has a clear understanding that the asylum seeker experience cannot be bureaucratically controlled and planned but demands flexibility and compassion. [4]

Grant Mitchell
22/03/02

For a copy of the Swedish Approach to Asylum Seekers contact Grant Mitchell: asp@sub.net.au


1. Rikslagen 18: 1997:432

2. Swedish Migration Board Statistics, August 2001

3. Österberg, T: Economic Perspectives on immigrants and Intergenerational Transmissions, Handelshögskolan, Göteborgsuniversitet, 2000

4. Much of the research for this paper was based on first-hand experience at the Carlslund detention centre.

Last Updated 9 January 2003.