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2011 Media Release: Immigration detention system in need of reform

Asylum Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Australia’s system of mandatory, prolonged and indefinite detention should be reformed so that immigration detention is used as a last resort and for the shortest possible time, the Australian Human Rights Commission has said in its submission to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network.

Commission President Catherine Branson QC said the Commission had made 31 recommendations to address longstanding concerns that the immigration detention system breached Australia’s international human rights obligations.

“We remain seriously concerned that people are being held in immigration detention facilities for long periods, without any time limits and without access to the courts to challenge their detention,” Ms Branson said.

“We’ve visited detention facilities and have seen first-hand a marked deterioration in people’s mental health and wellbeing as a result of being detained for a long period with no end date. Anxiety and frustration levels have also risen due to long delays with processing of their refugee claims.

“The conditions in some detention facilities are making things worse. Many people are detained in remote facilities in harsh environments, in crowded conditions, behind high wire and electrified fences. They often have limited access to essential services like health and mental health care.”

Ms Branson said the situation had become more concerning as the number of people in detention had grown, the numbers being detained for longer periods had grown and incidents of self-harm and suicide had dramatically increased.

“The system of mandatory and indefinite detention is damaging men, women and children. This parliamentary inquiry provides an important opportunity for Australia to change its approach to bring it into line with international standards.”

Ms Branson said the Commission continued to call on the Australian Government to implement its 2008 policy under which immigration detention was to be used as a last resort and people were to be detained only if they posed an unacceptable risk to the Australian community.

“Other countries don’t find it necessary to use a policy of mandatory detention without time limits or access to judicial review,” Ms Branson said.

Ms Branson said community-based alternatives were often much cheaper, more effective in facilitating immigration processing, and more humane than holding people in remote detention facilities for long periods of time.

“Alternatives such as community detention and bridging visas should be used to the greatest possible extent,” Ms Branson said.

The Commission’s submission to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network is online at

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