Sunday, January 21, 2007

HREOC renews call to end mandatory detention

21 January 2007: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission - HREOC has released a report on Villawood (Sydney), Baxter (Port Augusta), Perth, Maribyrnong (Melbourne) and Northern (Darwin) Immigration Detention Centres. It details observations made during visits in October and November last year by Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes and his staff. In a statement HREOC has renewed its call for an end to Australia's mandatory immigration detention laws...

One activity condemned in the report was the use of detainees to wash staff cars at the Northern centre in Darwin. HREOC said the staff were using detainees for their own personal benefit and the activity should be removed from the internal activities program. HREOC has renewed its call for an end to Australia's mandatory immigration detention laws.

Mr Innes is calling for the mandatory detention policy to be scrapped. He says detention has "an impact on the person's mental health," he said. Mr Innes says the biggest problem for detainees is the length of time they are kept in the centres.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone says despite serious concerns over detainees' mental health, the Government's harsh mandatory detention policy will remain. She said the government has made some improvements in mental health assessments. "People [are] getting a mental health assessment on the way in to detention, so we pick up the problem earlier," said the Minister.

Mr Innes said detainees were still being held in detention for far too long, and he identified 41 areas for improvement. HREOC wanted mandatory detention laws to be repealed but said if this was not possible there should be greater efforts to release or transfer people out of detention centres within three months.

The HREOC report, "Summary of Observations following the Inspection of Mainland Immigration Detention Facilities - January 2007", states that the main complaint from detainees in the Perth facility is the length of indefinite detention, particularly for those detainees whose visas have been cancelled under section 501 of the Migration Act. Detainees also complained about crowded accommodation.

The report also outlines many other issues. The greatest problem in the Maribyrnong centre appears to be the indefinite periods of time for which detainees are held. There is particular frustration for those detainees whose visas have been cancelled under section 501 of the Migration Act, as many of them have strong family ties in the local community. It seems that detainees do not have legal assistance. They are apparently not entitled to legal aid or any other free immigration assistance. Further, it seems that there are no bridging visa options available to those detained under a section 501 cancellation.

In Baxter IDC, where six detainees attempted suicide in 2 days late last year, detainees complained about the quality and variety of food amongst other issues. The report noted that the notorious Red One compound (Solitary Confinement) is still used for "behaviour management purposes".

In 2004, HREOC found that Australia's immigration detention laws, as administered by the Commonwealth, and applied to unauthorised arrival children, create a detention system that is fundamentally inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The Commonwealth's failure to implement the repeated recommendations by mental health professionals that certain children be removed from the detention environment with their parents amounted to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of those children in detention.

Inside the Villawood complex, there is still a real fear about asbestos after the earlier removal operations. Another concern was that most mental health nurses are on short contracts, making it difficult for detainees to gain trust in any one staff member. Further, many of the mental health problems happen at night when there are no mental health staff available.

The human rights of hundreds of people are being abused daily, hourly by the Australian Federal government.

The full report is available here

HREOC renews call to end mandatory detention - ABC
Detainees used to wash cars - The Age
HREOC - Media Release
National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention
Submissions to the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention
HREOC: Scrap mandatory detention - GLW

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