Community arrangements for asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons - Summary

Community arrangements for asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons

Observations from visits conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission from December 2011 to May 2012



1 Summary

This report is about two distinct subject matters. The first of these is the welcome move by the Australian Government to transfer increasing numbers of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons into community arrangements. The second is the situation of people who remain in immigration detention facilities with little or no prospect of being released.[1]

Australia has a legal and policy framework which provides for mandatory and indefinite immigration detention. Despite this framework, the Australian Government has recently taken measures to transfer large numbers of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons out of closed detention into the community, pending the resolution of their claims for protection. This is being achieved through the use of community detention and bridging visas.

The Australian Human Rights Commission recently visited a number of people living in the community under these arrangements. The Commission found that, as well as being better aligned with Australia’s international human rights obligations, community arrangements offer a far more humane and effective approach to the treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons than closed detention.

The Commission also visited four immigration detention facilities this year to speak with asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons. Some of these people had received adverse security assessments and some of them were people of interest to the Australian Federal Police or had been charged in relation to detention centre disturbances during early 2011. Under current arrangements, many of these people appear likely to remain in closed detention for the foreseeable future. The Commission witnessed alarming levels of despair amongst people experiencing prolonged and indefinite detention with little prospect of a community placement.

Australia’s system of mandatory, indefinite immigration detention leads to breaches of our international human rights obligations and it has a devastating human impact. Community placement options should urgently be pursued for all asylum seekers, refugees and stateless people who do not pose an unacceptable risk to the Australian community.

Artwork on the bedroom door of a man in detention, Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre.
Artwork on the bedroom door of a man in detention, Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre.

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[1] The term ‘refugee’ is used throughout this report to refer to refugees whose status has been recognised in Australia. None of the refugees with whom the Commission spoke in the context of producing this report had been granted a Protection Visa. The term ‘stateless’ is used throughout this report to refer to people who appear to be or identify as being either de jure or de facto stateless. Recognised refugees who may also be stateless are referred to as refugees. The Commission recognises that refugee status and statelessness are declaratory, not constitutive, in nature. As such, asylum seekers may also be refugees and may also be stateless.