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2009 Media Release: New report highlights ongoing problems in immigration detention

Commission Commission – General

13 January 2009

New report highlights ongoing problems in immigration detention

Releasing the 2008 report on conditions in immigration detention today, Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes called on the government to translate its ‘new directions’ for Australia’s immigration detention system into policy, practice and legislative change as soon as possible.

“While it is true we have seen improvements in the way Australia treats immigration detainees, our report shows we are still seeing children being held in detention facilities, people being detained for prolonged and indefinite periods and dilapidated detention centres being used for accommodation,” said Mr Innes, “and now we also have the disturbing reality that the massive prison-like Christmas Island facility is open for business.”

Commissioner Innes said the major recommendations in the report include that:

  • minimum standards for conditions and treatment of persons in immigration detention should be legislated
  • the Migration Act should be amended so that immigration detention is the exception rather than the norm and the decision to detain a person is subject to prompt review by a court
  • detention of people on Christmas Island should be ceased
  • the recommendations of the national inquiry into children in immigration detention should be implemented by the government.

Mr Innes said he was particularly concerned that, while children are no longer held in immigration detention centres, they are held in other closed detention facilities on the mainland and Christmas Island.

“The time is now for the government to amend Australia’s immigration laws to ensure they comply with the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Commissioner Innes said. “Detention of children in any type of immigration detention facility should only be used as an absolute last resort.”

Commissioner Innes said he also had serious concerns that, despite the end of the so-called ‘Pacific solution’, asylum seekers are still being detained and processed on the very remote Christmas Island – 2600 km from the nearest Australian capital city.

“The island’s isolation makes it difficult for external groups from the mainland to monitor what is going on there, and the island community is so small that detainees find it very hard to access basic services.”

Citing the dilapidated infrastructure at some of the mainland detention centres as particularly worrying, Mr Innes said the stage 1 section at Villawood was the worst of all. “We have repeatedly called for the demolition of Villawood stage 1,” Commissioner Innes said. “It is shameful, not only that it remains standing, but that people are still being detained there in its utterly miserable conditions.”

The 2008 Immigration detention report covers inspections of the immigration detention facilities around Australia, including Christmas Island, between June and September 2008. In addition to those listed above, the report contains a comprehensive set of recommendations about Australia’s immigration detention system.

A summary factsheet about the report is available at www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/immigration/sum_factsheet.html

The full report can be downloaded from www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/immigration/idc2008.html

Media contact: Paul Oliver 02 9284 9880 or 0408 469 347