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Media Release: Commission welcomes expansion of community detention

Asylum Asylum Seekers and Refugees

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed today’s news that a significant number of families and unaccompanied minors have been placed in community detention.

Commission President Catherine Branson QC said placing these vulnerable people in community-based accommodation instead of secure detention facilities should lead to significant improvements in their wellbeing.

“The successful expansion of the community detention program shows that there are practical and viable alternatives to holding people in immigration detention facilities for long periods,” Ms Branson said.

She said detaining people in secure facilities should be the option of last resort and such detention should be for the shortest possible period of time.

“There is no evidence that mandatory detention acts as a deterrent. We know that holding people in detention facilities for long and indefinite periods, particularly in isolated areas, causes great harm to their mental health and can lead to self-harm, suicides and serious unrest in detention facilities,” she said.

“Using community-based alternatives will mean we have fewer vulnerable people being harmed by the impacts of prolonged and indefinite detention in secure and remote facilities.”

Ms Branson called on the Government to implement a system where each person would be individually assessed to determine whether they needed to be held in a detention facility.

“Unless someone is shown to pose an unacceptable risk to the Australian community, and there is no other way to meet that risk, they should not be held in a detention facility. Instead, they should be able to live in the community while their immigration status is resolved,” Ms Branson said.

She said community-based alternatives already used in Australia and other countries have been shown to be cheaper and more effective in resolving people’s immigration status, and are more humane than holding people in closed detention facilities for long periods of time.

“While we welcome the move of a significant number of families and unaccompanied minors into community detention, we have serious concerns that, as of last week, there were still more than 4500 asylum seekers and refugees in detention facilities across Australia. This includes many survivors of torture and trauma and people with mental health concerns,” she said.

“We again urge the Government to move these vulnerable groups, as well as all remaining children, into community-based alternatives as quickly as possible, and to make greater use of all appropriate alternatives for the many others currently being held in detention for long and indefinite periods.”

Ms Branson also welcomed the news that the Asti Hotel in Darwin and the Virginia Palms in Brisbane would no longer be used as immigration detention facilities, and that the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation would shift from being a closed detention facility towards being a more open facility for unaccompanied minors.

“We hope these arrangements will be put into place as soon as possible, and we urge the Government to replicate this move at other facilities where people are currently being held in immigration detention for long periods,” Ms Branson said.

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Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597