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2008 Immigration detention report - Summary factsheet

2008 Immigration detention report

Summary factsheet

On 13 January 2009 the Commission released the 2008 Immigration detention report: Summary of observations following visits to Australia’s immigration detention facilities.

The Commission conducts annual visits to immigration detention facilities to monitor conditions, with the aim of ensuring they meet internationally recognised human rights standards. This report follows the Commission’s 2006 and 2007 annual inspection reports.

Which detention facilities did the Commission visit?

The Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes AM and Commission staff conducted the following visits to Australia’s immigration detention facilities, and to people in community detention, between June and September 2008:

Villawood Immigration Detention Centre

23-25 June 2008

Sydney Immigration Residential Housing

25 June 2008

Perth Immigration Detention Centre

14-15 July 2008

Perth Immigration Residential Housing

15 July 2008

Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation

5 August 2008

Christmas Island immigration detention facilities

12-13 August 2008

Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre

25-26 August 2008

Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation

27 August 2008

Nine visits to people in community detention (NSW, WA, Victoria, Queensland, Christmas Island)

July-August 2008

Northern Immigration Detention Centre

1-2 September 2008

What does the report cover?

The major sections of the report include observations and recommendations on:

  • the number of people in detention and the length of detention
  • conditions at mainland immigration detention centres
  • current alternatives to immigration detention centres (immigration residential housing, immigration transit accommodation, and community detention)
  • immigration detention on Christmas Island
  • children in immigration detention.

What were the Commission’s main observations in 2008?

Despite observing improvements in the physical conditions in immigration detention facilities over the past few years, the Commission has significant ongoing concerns. Major concerns include the following:

  • While there are fewer people in detention and the number of long-term detainees is decreasing, some people are still held for prolonged and indefinite periods. It is well established that this can lead to negative impacts on the mental health of detainees. The Commission met with people who had been detained for periods of up to six years.
  • Off-shore processing of asylum seekers continues on Christmas Island. The new immigration detention centre is a formidable high-security facility that the Commission believes should not be used. The island’s remoteness and the small size of the local community make it difficult for detainees to get adequate access to basic services, and make the island an inappropriate place for holding people in immigration detention.
  • Children are no longer held in immigration detention centres. However, they are still held in other closed immigration detention facilities, both on the mainland and on Christmas Island.
  • The Stage 1 section of Villawood Immigration Detention Centre remains in use, despite the Commission’s repeated recommendations that it should be demolished. While there are ongoing efforts to refurbish some detention facilities, the Commission has significant concerns about the infrastructure and prison-like environment at the mainland immigration detention centres.
  • Services and activities in immigration detention have, on the most part, improved over the past few years. Still, many detainees express frustrations about a range of issues including lack of access to external excursions, interpreters and translated documents, and recreational and educational activities.

What are the report’s major recommendations?

The Commission’s recommendations are set out in full in section 3 of the report. Major recommendations include the following:

  • Minimum standards for conditions and treatment of persons in immigration detention should be codified in legislation. These should be based on relevant international human rights standards. 
  • Australia’s mandatory detention law should be repealed. The Migration Act should be amended so that immigration detention occurs only when necessary. This should be the exception, not the norm. It must be for a minimal period, be reasonable and be a proportionate means of achieving at least one of the aims outlined in international law. These limited grounds for detention should be clearly prescribed in the Migration Act.
  • The Migration Act should be amended so that the decision to detain a person is subject to prompt review by a court, in accordance with international law.
  • The Migration Act should be amended to include periodic independent reviews of the ongoing need to detain an individual, and a maximum time limit for detention.
  • A comprehensive redevelopment of the Villawood and Perth Immigration Detention Centres should be undertaken as a matter of priority. This should include the demolition of Stage 1 at Villawood as a matter of urgency, and its replacement with a new facility. This is subject to there being a continuing need for such a facility, given the Government’s stated intention to detain people in immigration detention centres only as a last resort.
  • People should not be held in immigration detention on Christmas Island. The Australian Government should repeal the provisions of the Migration Act relating to excised off-shore places. All unauthorised arrivals who make claims for asylum should have those claims assessed through the refugee status determination process on the Australian mainland.
  • The Australian Government should implement in full the recommendations made by the Commission in the report of its national inquiry into children in immigration detention, A last resort? These include amending Australia's immigration laws to comply with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the key principle that the detention of a child should be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.
  • DIAC and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship should make greater use of community detention arrangements, rather than holding people in immigration detention facilities.
  • A new client placement model should be implemented to reflect the Government’s ‘new directions’ in immigration detention, in particular that detention in immigration detention centres is to be used as a last resort and for the shortest practicable time, and that the presumption will be that persons will remain in the community while their immigration status is resolved.

Other recommendations address issues including:

  • strengthening external monitoring of immigration detention facilities
  • training for staff about the human rights of persons in immigration detention
  • provision of physical and mental health care for detainees
  • increasing external excursions, and recreational and educational activities for detainees
  • restricting use of restraints during trips outside detention facilities
  • ensuring access to communication facilities in detention
  • increasing information flow to detainees about their detention placement options, risk assessments and progress with their immigration case
  • increasing use of interpreters and translation of documents
  • improving detention infrastructure including visitors’ facilities, interview rooms, outdoor space, space for religious use, and dedicated space for educational activities
  • increasing use of the immigration residential housing facilities as an alternative to detaining people in immigration detention centres
  • improving services in immigration transit accommodation facilities if DIAC intends to use these facilities to detain people for longer than seven days
  • appointing independent guardians for unaccompanied children
  • imposing maximum time limits for detaining children in immigration residential housing or immigration transit accommodation
  • allowing people in community detention to undertake meaningful activities such as study and work
  • broadening the eligibility criteria for community detention, and ensuring that all detainees who meet the current criteria are referred for community detention without delay
  • ensuring fair treatment for detainees whose visas have been cancelled under the section 501 character provisions of the Migration Act.

Where can I find more information?

Read the full report at

For the media release issued on publication of the report, click here.

For media enquiries, contact Paul Oliver on 02 9284 9880 or 0408 469 347.

For past reports and further information about the Commission’s work on immigration, asylum seekers and refugees, click here.