The Australian Human Rights Commission conducts ongoing monitoring of conditions in detention to ensure that Australia’s immigration detention system complies with our obligations under international human rights law.
Australia’s immigration authorities use hotels as Alternative Places of Detention (commonly known as APODs) instead of housing some people in immigration detention centres.
In mid-2022, the Commission conducted inspections, interviews, and consultations to monitor the human rights of people detained in hotel APODs in Melbourne and Brisbane. The resulting report describes the living conditions within hotel APODs and provides an assessment of the human rights impacts.
The report makes 24 recommendations to better protect the human rights of people detained in hotel APODs. The Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs has provided an official response to the Commission’s recommendations.
In previous reports, the Commission has consistently expressed the view that detention in hotel APODs has serious human rights impacts, is not appropriate for lengthy periods, and should only ever be used in exceptional circumstances and for the shortest possible time.
However, the use of hotel APODs has become regular in immigration detention rather than being limited to exceptional circumstances, and many people have been held for months or even years in such settings.
Between the time of the inspection and the publication of the report the overall numbers of people detained in hotel APODs decreased. While the Commission welcomes this trend, there are ongoing concerns about the living conditions for those who remain, and about the nature of any future use of hotel APODs.
Human rights impacts
The Commission’s report found serious human rights impacts on people being detained in hotel APODs at the time of the inspection in 2022. These included:
- Serious negative mental health impacts, which progressively worsen over time and exacerbate pre-existing trauma experienced by some people being detained.
- People in hotel APODs were largely confined to their rooms with almost no freedom of movement. They experienced social isolation and entrenched loneliness.
- Many people did not have sufficient access to fresh air, exercise, or outdoor areas. There have also been reports of substandard food.
- Many people experienced a distressing lack of privacy, either because of intrusive monitoring by staff or because of their living arrangements.
- People in hotel APODs had very limited access to programs or activities, fuelling boredom, frustration, and apathy.
- Many people had insufficient access to private spaces for visits by family, friends, or legal assistance.
- Concerns about the use of physical restraints, (including handcuffs) on people when they were escorted outside of detention facilities.
- Many people had difficulties accessing appropriate and timely medical care, including access to specialist health care and mental health care.
- Concerns about both the way that releases from hotel APODs have been conducted and the provision of post-release support.
The Commission’s inspection report provides 24 recommendations to the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs. In its official response to the report, the Department has agreed with two recommendations, disagreed with five recommendations, and noted the remaining 17.
Many of the Commission’s recommendations are longstanding and are echoed by other oversight bodies, including the Commonwealth Ombudsman. The Commission hopes the Department will take action to implement them.
The Commission’s key recommendations in this report address the following concerns:
- Excessive periods of detention in hotel APODs (recommendation 1)
- Poor living conditions within hotel APODs (Recommendations 2 to 11)
- A lack of programs and activities (Recommendations 12 and 13)
- Improving access to medical treatment (Recommendations 14 to 17)
- Managing the COVID - 19 pandemic (Recommendation 18)
- Alternatives to closed detention (Recommendation 19)
- Improving the process of release from closed detention (Recommendation 20)
- Improving the support people receive after they are released, which is currently extremely poor (Recommendations 21 and 24)
- The role of Ministerial intervention (Recommendation 23)