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2011 Media Release: Australia’s immigration detention system continues to breach international human rights obligations

Asylum Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Australia’s strict immigration detention regime continues to lead to breaches of Australia’s human rights obligations, most notably in relation to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australian Human Rights Commission President Catherine Branson QC will tell a public lecture in Sydney today.

Ms Branson, who is speaking at the lecture with Professor Stephen Castles from the University of Sydney and the International Migration Institute at the University of Oxford, will say that mandatory detention, prolonged and indefinite detention and the continued detention of children lead to the most serious breaches of the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.

“The critical overarching factor is that Australia’s mandatory detention system permits indefinite detention. There is no set time limit on the period a person may be held in detention, and people are not able to challenge the need for their detention in a court,” Ms Branson will say.

“People in detention often express disbelief and a sense of injustice that in a country like Australia, they could be detained indefinitely without the ability to challenge their detention before a judge.”

Despite recently welcoming the fact that approximately 60 per cent of children in immigration detention are now living in community detention rather than in secure immigration detention facilities, Ms Branson will urge the government to extend community detention to all families and unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable people as soon as possible.

“Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Australia has agreed to respect, the detention of children must be a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time,” Ms Branson will say.

There are currently more than 4000 asylum seekers and refugees in immigration detention facilities around Australia.

“We know from bitter experience that prolonged detention causes serious mental harm. We must not forget that there are people in our communities who are still damaged from their experience of detention up to 10 years ago,” she will say.

“We encourage the government to use all viable alternatives to immigration detention, including both community detention and bridging visas. Australia’s international human rights obligations require consideration of the use of community based alternatives so that detention is truly always a matter of last resort.”

Professor Castles will discuss the way the current global order produces conflict and human displacement.

“Human displacement is growing – but rich countries are shutting the doors to refugees. More and more people displaced by violence get stuck in their own countries or in poor countries that cannot offer any perspective of an acceptable life. Violence and forced migration are not the result of unrelated catastrophes, but are integral parts of a global order based on inequality, discrimination and exploitation.”

The lecture is being held in Sydney this morning at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

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