here to return to the Submission Index
Submission to National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention from
Alternative approaches to
Hotham Mission as a Model of Community Release
to Hotham's work with asylum seekers
Project, Hotham Mission
2 Elm St, North Melbourne 3051
Tel: 93268343 Fax: 93268030
Contact person: Grant Mitchell
This paper addresses
the second term of reference of the HREOC inquiry into children in detention,
namely what alternatives to detention should be developed or implemented.
The paper looks at the work of Hotham Mission in Melbourne as an example
of an alternative approach to asylum seekers.
The Asylum Seeker
Project at Hotham Mission in Melbourne has been providing accommodation
and support for asylum seekers in the community for almost 6 years. The
Project aims to build a comprehensive framework for community support
and to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for asylum seekers in Victoria.
The majority of asylum
seekers we work with are 'ineligible' for Red Cross ASAS payments and
are without work rights or Medicare. Primarily they have either recently
applied for a protection visa or have appealed beyond the RRT.
The Project currently
works with 120 asylum seekers. Of those, 57 are houses and 89 receive
monthly emergency relief. Furthermore we work with around 30 asylum seekers
currently in detention, both support work with clients that have moved
in and out of detention and in negotiating bridging visa options for asylum
seekers at high risk in detention. The Project currently works with 42
asylum seeker children and youths.
The Asylum Seeker
Project is thus involves over 200 people, including asylum seekers, volunteers
and staff, as well as more contacts from community groups, churches, and
the many potential volunteers wanting to support and work with asylum
seekers in the community.
The Asylum Seeker
Project currently houses 57 asylum seekers in the community on very limited
funding. There are 26 people living in 7 homes managed by the Project,
all of which are either manses or church-owned properties, including 2
family houses, 2 single male houses, 1 single female house and 2 single
mother houses. 30 people are housed through interagency agreements, including
3 nomination rights with transitional housing, 3 agreements with church
housing, 4 youth housing agreements and 7 non-paying boarder arrangements.
A Letter of Agreement is signed by all parties involved and tenants must
adhere to the Project's Housing Guidelines. Housing is normally for 8
months or until other suitable accommodation is secured.
Seeker Project Based Housing
Seddon - 5
Wombat, Essendon, Keilor, Footscray
Ivanhoe - 4
St Vincent THM
- based- 3
Unit 1 - 5
Unit 2 - 3
Unit 3 - 3
Springvale - 6
Baptist - 2
Blackburn - 4
Asylum seekers are
assisted by the project in various ways:
Our Asylum Seeker
Emergency Relief Program provides cash relief, food and meat vouchers,
travel and phone cards on a monthly basis. We also assist with bills and
emergency medical or housing issues. All funding for our housing and emergency
relief program is donated by churches and the wider community.
We have an Outreach
and Housing Team made up of trained social and community development
workers with experience in working with asylum seekers that provide visitation,
referral, orientation and housing support to our clients.
The LinkUp Program
currently supports 41 socially isolated asylum seekers in the community
by 'linking' them with support volunteer families and individuals. Over
300 people have attended our training program, run together with Red Cross
ASAS and Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, some are LinkUp
volunteers and some are now assisting the Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre.
The Project also runs a number of support groups, such as the Young
Asylum Seeker (YAS) Group and the Asylum Seeker Mothers Group.
Integral to this
work is raising community awareness, promoting policy change and advocating
for an approach to asylum seekers both in detention and in the community
that respects their basic human rights.
Sacha Goldman, Emelia and Kevin Lawson
- Housing Support
Oliva Walker, Kieran Gill, Katherine Marshall,
Victoria Rodin, Juan Peake, Ciara Cross - Outreach Support
Assistant - Sue Andersson
The Asylum Seeker
Project is under the auspice of Hotham Mission and is overseen by a Management
Committee. This is made up of representatives actively involved in the
asylum seeker field such as Outreach Mission, Brigidine Sisters, East
Kew Refugee Support Group and the Uniting Church Synod Victoria. The Committee
reports to the Hotham Mission Committee. An advisory group consisting
of members of the Refugee Council (Sherron Dunbar) and Foundation for
Survivors of Torture (Paris Aristotle), provides policy advice, support
and direction as required.
Seekers in the community
Not all asylum seekers
are in detention. Asylum seekers who arrive with legitimate documentation
and are 'immigration cleared' are free to live in the community after
lodging a protection visa application. In fact the majority of all asylum
seekers are living lawfully in the community on bridging visas. These
'on-shore asylum seekers' consist primarily of 2 groups: a) those granted
work visas and b) those not granted work rights, usually as they have
missed the 45 day rule to apply for asylum. Those with work rights may
be lucky to find a job if they have sufficient English, however no English
training is provided for them.
Very few asylum seekers
in the community are eligible for any government funding, welfare payments,
education or housing subsidies. The Red Cross are federally funded to
provide assistance to only a small group of asylum seekers who have been
waiting for their first decision for more than 6 months and who have not
appealed beyond the Refugee Review Tribunal. The majority however are
without such assistance. All asylum seekers who appeal to the Immigration
Minister for their application to be assessed on humanitarian grounds
are denied the right to work, income support or Medicare.
There are around
400 'ineligible' asylum seekers in Victoria. Many of these are completely
dependent on family and friends for support. The Asylum Seeker Project
works primarily with those who have no family or community support and
no other means of supporting themselves.
Asylum seekers without
support or work rights must rely completely on the support and resources
of charities and welfare agencies, often church-based. This group is barred
from assistance from Migrant Resource Centres and other settlement services.
They are also not eligible for mainstream services like public housing
or basic medical coverage. While a considerable amount of tax-payers funds
are spent on immigration detention costs, almost no government funds are
provided for asylum seekers living lawfully in the community, who make
up the majority of all asylum seekers.
This group of asylum
seekers is especially vulnerable to homelessness and ill-health and in
most cases they are completely dependent on churches and over-stretched
welfare agencies. A separate submission outlining Hotham's work with asylum
seeker children and the impact of ineligibility on this group has also
to these needs
Half way through
the year 2000, the government began releasing refugees from detention
centres on Temporary Protection Visas, with no access to public housing
or settlement support. In fact many were left in front of back-packer
hostels with enough money for a few days accommodation. Since that time
homelessness has increasingly become a problem, with both asylum seekers
and TPV holders sharing the few transitional and crisis housing options
available. Unaccompanied youths and single mothers and their children
were those most affected. The Asylum Seeker Project responded by focusing
on the most vulnerable group, asylum seekers with no income or family
support. Empty church housing and manses have provided the basis to our
housing work, together with interagency agreements with transitional and
youth housing, as well as non-paying boarder arrangements.
The effects of the
TPV category on asylum seekers in the community have been enormous due
to almost no settlement services being available for both groups. A number
of traditional welfare agencies, once receptive to help asylum seekers
living lawfully in the community, started turning them away. Many agencies
are overstretched, with some now having policies stating they do not provide
emergency relief for asylum seekers. Others provide assistance that is
difficult for asylum seekers to rely on, perhaps once every three months
or first in first served. Consistently we find that agencies make the
assumption that clients must be eligible for some Centrelink payment or
must have relatives to support them. This is not the case for our clients.
For individuals with no work rights, no income support and no family or
friends to support them, these policies can be devastating.
the needs of asylum seekers in the community
To respond to this
Hotham Mission started the Asylum Seeker Emergency Relief Program (ASERP)
in the middle of 2000, providing monthly ongoing emergency relief, such
as vouchers, cash assistance, Met and Phone cards and paying utilities,
medical and other emergency costs.
The Asylum Seeker
Project at Hotham Mission is now supporting over 96 asylum seekers with
no income of any kind and with no family or relatives to support them
here in Australia. This group also has no medicare. Many are children
and young people.
The program builds
upon the existing support for asylum seekers in extreme poverty in the
community, such as:
- Food Bank,
Material Aid Support
- Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) (Footscray); St Marks Community
Centre (Fitzroy); Asylum Seeker Centre (Dandenong); UNOH Mission (Springvale)
- Housing Support
- Asylum Seeker Project (ASP), Hotham Mission; Brigidine Sisters; UNOH
- Medical assistance
- Bula Bula Health Project (ASRC) - referral; Red Cross ASAS program
& Asylum Seeker Project - limited funds for emergency assistance.
- Red Cross ASAS Program; Asylum Seeker Project; Asylum Seeker Welcome
Centre (Starting early 2002)
While there are other
agencies providing support, this tends to be irregular and does not usually
entail providing important items such as cash relief and food vouchers.
The Asylum Seeker Emergency Relief Program aims to act as a supplement
to ensure a regular minimum is allocated to this vulnerable group. The
focus is particularly on the needs of clients having difficulties accessing
the above services, such as single mothers, unaccompanied youths or unwell
single adults. ASERP is distributed after a needs assessment at the Asylum
Seeker Project at Hotham Mission.
Based solely on donations,
the program currently costs around $11,000 per month to finance.
Transition from Detention to the Community
Since late 2000,
the Asylum Seeker Project has been providing housing and assistance to
a number of asylum seekers released from detention on bridging visas.
These asylum seekers
fall into two main categories:
- Those released
for psychological reasons
- Those detained
for breaching their bridging visa requirements
Overall, the Project
provides post-release support, such as housing, referral and emergency
relief, to a total of 27 asylum seekers released on bridging visas, including
6 children. 12 were released for psychological reasons, 2 were released
as unaccompanied minors and 13 were released after breaching their bridging
visa requirements or after paying a bond.
In 14 of these cases,
the project negotiated or assisted in their early release, 9 for psychological
reasons and 5 who had breached their bridging visa requirements.
Of these 27 people,
26 were released without work rights and 1 released with work rights.
Bar one, all of these asylum seekers were released on a Bridging Visa
E. To our knowledge, bar one person, none of these asylum seekers released
on bridging visas have undergone the security and police checks undertaken
on receiving a protection visa.
The Process of Release
There seems to have
been 2 main ways of negotiating the release of detainees:
- Individual Assessment/Negotiations
- Primarily psychological
- Provision of Support-
Primarily for those who have worked unlawfully or breached their visa
After an incident
of self-harm or hospitalisation an independent psychological assessment
is made. A decision may be made by DIMIA as to whether the asylum seeker
needs to be released into the community on a bridging visa. This is generally
after the consulting psychologist at the IDC has made a report.
DIMIA may also make
a decision following a psychological evaluation at a lawyer's request
regarding their refugee claim, as it may be discovered that there are
serious concerns for the person's mental health.
If an asylum seeker
is hospitalized, the request may be for a community treatment order or
may be released into the care of an agency or individual who has had prolonged
contact with the person while in detention. A provision of support and
a care plan may be required in some cases. These are also the same principles
used for medical grounds.
A letter of support
is written assuring the detainee will not need to work on release as all
major needs will be provided for by the Project. This involves written
submissions to the MRT as well as negotiations and written support to
Compliance. If the case is taken to the Federal Court then further information
may be provided by the Project.
a detainee DIMA's Compliance section require a guarantee that the Project
will be responsible for:
1. Providing a
2. Financial assistance
and material aid
3. Assistance for
medical or health issues
4. Some level of
supervision and compliance
5. Make the person
available on a final negative decision
It is at Compliance's
discretion whether a document may need to be signed assuring the above.
Material Aid and Medical
Asylum Seekers released
to the Project's care are treated equally as those in the community, with
both provision of housing and general support and assistance. The Asylum
Seeker Project and the Brigidine Sisters are now working together with
a house in Albert Park specifically for males released from detention
on bridging visas. Emergency Relief and a limited provision of funds for
emergency health are available for those who require assistance. An Asylum
Seeker Community Health Centre, Bula Bula made up of volunteer medical
practitioners, is established in the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in
Footscray to assist those without Medicare.
Aspects of supervision
and 'immigration compliance' include encouraging asylum seekers to comply
with decisions. This includes ensuring they have travel cards to register
with DIMIA's Compliance Section, according to their Bridging Visa requirements.
The Housing Support workers have regular contact with the clients and
monthly housing meetings. The clients must also visit ASP at Hotham Mission
once a month to receive their emergency relief and for ongoing need and
risk assessments. ASP and other agencies involved, such as Foundation
House, often make an attempt to explore all possible immigration outcomes
with the client. This has proved easier for clients we have worked extensively
with from the outset. It is much more difficult to gain the trust and
confidence to explore these issues with clients who have had significant
time in detention or who we only have had contact with at the final stage/s.
We do not inform
Compliance of the movements or actions of our clients and neither are
we in a position to implement immigration decisions. We do inform Compliance
and On Shore Protection however if an asylum seeker is at risk of self-harm
and on a final decision we may discuss with DIMIA options for the client.
Settlement and Return
Of the approximately
150 asylum seekers we have worked with since February 2000, 10 have voluntarily
repatriated, of which 3 have voluntarily repatriated to a third country
prior to a final decision. 7 asylum seekers have voluntarily repatriated
to their home country on a final decision after we negotiated with Compliance
that we arrange the travel arrangements and that they not be detained.
This allows for their return with dignity and keeps them out of detention.
In these cases we
bought the ticket, arranged their departure and in some cases arranged
for Red Cross or family members to meet them on arrival. Most of them
contacted us afterwards to let us know how they were. An important reason
for asylum seekers in the community to be able to be provided with the
flight home is that they will not be exempt from entering the country
for 5 years, as occurs if they are detained and then returned. This is
particularly important if they have family or relatives in Australia.
3 have been detained
and forcibly returned to their country of origin.
There have been 20
asylum seekers who settled after receiving a positive decision. 16 have
been granted permanent protection visas and 4 temporary protection visas.
Those granted permanent visas that have had the support of the Project
throughout the process have settled extremely well, with 6 working, one
studying at University and the remaining have only recently received decisions.
Those granted Temporary Protection Visas have had a more difficult transition
in settlement, particularly those unable to be reunited with spouses and
2 asylum seekers
have moved interstate, while the remainder are awaiting a decision, either
from the RRT, Federal or High Court or the Minister. No asylum seekers
The major challenge
right now is to fully utilize the bridging visa exemption grounds for
unaccompanied minors and those at high risk both psychologically and medically
in detention. This requires a discreet and united effort by key players,
such as childcare services, lawyers, barristers, mental health professionals,
DIMIA, housing and asylum seeker support agencies, chaplains and ethnic
communities. With the starting point being:
1) Discretion between
all agencies involved
2) Building a trusting
relationship with DIMIA
4) Community Release
Support (Housing, living assistance, medical support etc)
5) Clear Care Options.
The importance of
this is two-fold, both to ensure the release of high-risk asylum seekers
from detention, but also to build the foundations to a reception regime
whereby asylum seekers can live in the community with adequate support.
There are a number
of challenges for the Asylum Seeker Project in working with asylum seekers
in the community. Most importantly the fact that the financial component
of assisting a large number of asylum seekers with no income would be
alleviated by allowing work rights. This would also ensure all asylum
seekers have access to Medicare. Also the expansion of ASAS to cover individuals
often unable to work such as single mothers and unaccompanied youths in
school would significantly help to reduce acute homelessness and poverty
of these groups.
An increased difficulty
has been that most are released on a Bridging Visa E, with no work rights
or income support, yet some are required to register at DIMIA compliance
up to 3 times per week. This costs us over $1000 a month just to cover
Also the cost of
arranging for return travel is beyond the scope of any community-based
project. It has been helpful that in some cases an asylum seeker can be
granted 2 weeks work rights to help pay for their ticket home, however
this is rarely adequate. A cheaper and better way is allowing asylum seekers
the right to work until the final stage of the decision making process.
We have had two cases of asylum seekers released from detention wanting
to return home voluntarily but not having work rights to pay for the travel
or the issuance of a new passport. As there is no one with the money to
assist the person their only option is to return to detention where the
fares are paid. As most clients do not wish to return to detention, they
are forced to appeal further.
There have been some
inconsistencies with Compliance at the 417 stage, particularly when the
Minister has refused to use his discretion. Clients are rarely informed
of their immigration options and issues of return are not adequately discussed.
It has proven difficult to negotiate the release of unauthorised arrivals
at the 417 Ministerial stage, who are not eligible for any bridging visa.
This is particularly important for those in detention not coping psychologically.
Although in extreme cases they may be detained elsewhere, the practicalities
of this have proven difficult because hospitals or other places where
they may be held are required to ensure they will supervise and restrain
the client if required. This would be alleviated if they could be exempted
and be able to apply for a bridging visa. (See Appendix 1: General Community
work at Hotham Mission demonstrates on a micro-level how community/church
based agencies are able to provide comprehensive and ongoing support for
asylum seekers in the community while providing some reasurrance for decision-makers.
The Project members have seen many positive outcomes in our work, despite
the challenges, limitations and difficulties in working with a client
group that have no income/Medicare and who may find themselves returned
to detention or their country of origin.
All the asylum seekers
released into our care for psychological reasons have made encouraging
improvements, due in part to the joint work of mental health practitioners,
the LinkUp volunteer program and the supportive environment in place,
such as our Project and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
While it has been
far more challenging to facilitate the release of unaccompanied minors
on bridging visas, much work has been done to develop consistent and comprehensive
Community Care Plans. There definitely is the ability and capacity to
address the needs of this group if released into the community on bridging
visas. This was outlined recently with the offer by 12 large welfare agencies
in Victoria to collaborate and provide their services if the remaining
unaccompanied minors in detention centres around Australia are released.
Hotham Mission has also been involved in negotiations between DIMIA and
DHS regarding an unaccompanied minor in Curtin Detention Centre.
The LinkUp program
is a perfect example of a community based volunteer structure that assists
and supports asylum seekers. This has been both with asylum seekers in
the community and by visiting and forging community links with asylum
seekers in detention prior to release. LinkUp operates by breaking down
social isolation and expanding networks of support into the community,
while ensuring visibility and wider understanding in the community. Furthermore
the LinkUp program has been extremely beneficial in its supportive role
for children and young asylum seekers who are often isolated in the community.
A recent survey of
LinkUp volunteers indicated that over 97% found that the experience was
positive for both the asylum seeker and the volunteer and that most had
said they have become friends for life. All respondents felt LinkUp was
an important means for asylum seekers to gain important contacts and supports
and for the wider community to gain an understanding of the asylum seeker
experience and to breakdown myths.
We have also had
an extremely high percentage of our clients complying with negative decisions
and registering with Compliance, much of this resulting from the trust
fostered among our clients. We have worked in a manner that resembles
caseworkers in empowering our clients to make the few decisions they can
and advocating for them between service providers and DIMIA. In ensuring
asylum seekers have adequate legal representation and are aware of the
immigration process we have found that they are more likely to feel they
have had a fair hearing. Moreover by providing further support, such as
following-up on return or organising for Red Cross to meet them the asylum
seeker is greatly assisted to make the difficult journey home and allows
for third country options to be explored on a final negative decision.
Of course, this has proved easier for clients we have worked with and
supported from the initial stages, an argument for consistent and ongoing
case management of asylum seekers both in detention and in the community.
The structure of
the Asylum Seeker Project at Hotham Mission is in many ways similar to
the Swedish 'reception centre' concept. The coordinator previously worked
for the Swedish Migration Board in both their reception and detention
centres. Given that Sweden also has a mandatory detention policy for all
unauthorised arrivals, much emphasis is placed on the extent of time and
for what reasons asylum seekers are detained. In the Swedish context this
means detention only for the period of identity, health and security checks
and a final negative decision if the asylum seeker is deemed a high risk
to abscond. Furthermore it is stipulated that children shall not be
detained for longer than 6 days. There is thus much energy placed
on the important role of the transition from detention to the community.
This is achieved primarily through preparatory work and ongoing case management
of asylum seekers and coordination and negotiation between agencies, departments
and community groups. It is a thorough and fair approach that has proved
very successful in Sweden and extremely beneficial for asylum seeker children.
(See appendix 2)
Hotham Mission has
modelled much of its housing and support work on this model, such as:
- Visiting individuals
and families in detention and gaining contact prior to release.
- Assigning all
asylum seekers an 'outreach' worker for ongoing contact, referral and
- Living assistance
linked to monthly contact and assessment at the central office.
- A mediation role
between department, service providers and the asylum seeker.
- Empowering and
preparing asylum seekers for all possible immigration outcomes.
Based on the experience
of the Asylum Seeker Project working with both asylum seekers in the community
and those released from detention, there is no reason why asylum seekers
in detention, particularly children, family units, young people and those
not coping with the detention system could not be released into the community.
Such a release would have benefits for both the asylum seeker and the
wider community. Some of these benefits include:
- Assisting the
settlement of those granted refugee status
- Reducing public
outcry over the prolonged detention of children
- Reducing the risk
of re-traumatisation of those psychologically at risk
- Allowing for more
a flexible response to those at risk in the detention environment
- Reducing costs
to the tax-payer of prolonged detention
But most importantly
this approach would comply with Article 37 (b) of the Convention on the
Rights of the Child: "No child shall be deprived of his liberty unlawfully
or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall
be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last
resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time .."
General Community Release
are two major areas that need to be considered in regards to any release
of asylum seekers from immigration detention centres in Australia: firstly,
considerations under the current system, and secondly, general considerations
under a reformed system whereby certain responsibility is handed to welfare/community
Current Detention System
Under the current
system of detention, the only avenues for release are the provision of
a Temporary Protection or Humanitarian Visa, or review of immigration
detention and issuance of a bridging visa under the following criteria:
1) Minors with
adequate community care
2) Special Needs:
Medical/Psychological, Torture grounds
3) Persons over
4) Spouse is an
5) No primary decision
within 6 months
Cleared 'detainees' who have breached visa requirements may approach the
MRT, Federal Court or Compliance may release them on a bond.
The grounds of eligibility
for bridging visas for unauthorised arrivals have not been exercised to
any great extent. There have been a number of cases of people released
for psychological reasons, often after their situation has become acutely
critical. Maribyrnong detention centre has also seen more releases than
any other centre. Others who have been released from detention tend to
be people who have breached a visa requirement and have had a knowledge
of the system, contacts, reasonable english and an ability to raise money
for a bond. There are however currently a number of unaccompanied minors
in detention and arguably many more detainees who could fulfill the exemption
grounds for a bridging visa. A number of groups and individuals have been
working to help facilitate the release of those at high risk in immigration
detention centres. But a more concerted and coordinated effort is needed.
Experience has shown
that to be able to successfully assist with a release a number of factors
- Discretion between
all agencies involved
- Building a trusting
relationship with DIMIA
- Negotiations with
- Community Release
Support (Housing, living assistance, medical support etc)
- Clear Care Options
of childcare services, lawyers, barristers, mental health professionals,
housing and asylum seeker support agencies, detention centre chaplains
and ethnic communities.
Asylum Seekers released
from detention under these exemption criteria are generally released on
a Bridging Visa E, which denies the right to work rights, medicare and
any government benefit. The agency or individual who undertakes the provision
of support must agree to provide all housing, medical and living assistance.
There are many
obstacles facing the release of children from detention under the current
system as namely it is generally decided that it is in the child's best
interest to remain with their parents in detention. For unaccompanied
minors challenges have included uncertainty as to the procedures and
protocols, lack of adequate community care plans, difficulties for community
groups and state child protection agencies to work together and issues
around guardianship and delegation of that guardianship on release.
Furthermore due to the lack of rights and entitlements of asylum seekers
in the community there has been some hesitancy for authorities to allow
for the release of children from detention, as they are essentially
released with no provision for medicare or income support.
Considerations for welfare/community
move by established welfare agencies to take on the responsibility of
community support for asylum seekers requires lobbying to allow for the
right to work, the right to medicare and the right to adequate living
assistance for all asylum seekers living in the community.
The main areas requiring
active consideration include:
This includes access to Medicare and mainstream services, as well
as specialised a Refugee Health Team, for independent, trauma sensitive
health assessments and counselling.
Cluster housing, open hostels, community/church housing/ transitional
Various possibilities to be explored, such as Income Support/Entitlement
Card/Voucher System/Centrelink/Work Rights. The current Asylum Seeker
Assistance Scheme (ASAS) could be used as a model of support.
Issues such as appropriateness of same-aged schooling for primary aged
children with little English. After extensive ESL and special tuition
they should be placed in classes according to their level of education.
The composition, role and coordination of volunteer support and social
orientation, similar to the Community Resettlement Support Scheme with
links to ethnic communities
training Training in working with working with trauma and cross cultural
is obviously required to cover these services.
A major consideration
for welfare agencies is the issue of 'absconding' and immigration procedures
on a final negative decision. Under the current system of release into
the community DIMIA generally requires that agencies/individuals agree
to 'make available' the asylum seeker on a negative decision and in some
cases to arrange travel arrangements to leave the country. This can pose
huge ethical dilemmas on agencies. Welfare agencies would need to clearly
spell out their inability to implement immigration decisions and to clearly
define roles, particularly in the final stages of the determination process.
The need for a caseworker system to make individual assessments and to
'track' asylum seekers in the community is needed. The responsibility
of DIMIA needs to be highlighted, particularly Immigration Compliance
in supervision requirements and On-shore Protection in organising return
A major challenge
is the need to bridge the enormous differences between current detention
and community practices: A dichotomy between the large amount spent on
our current detention system as opposed to the tiny amount spent on asylum
seekers in the community; The often inadequate provisions and services
in detention as opposed to the lack of provisions and services for asylum
seekers in the community. Any realistic attempt to discuss alternative
detention models in Australia must address this gap and attempt to find
linkages between detention and community. This includes not only practical
issues such as housing and health options in the community, but larger
issues of community education and understanding.
Justice for Asylum
Seekers (JAS) Alliance' Detention Working Group
Contact: Grant Mitchell (03 93268343)
Summary of the Swedish Model
Swedish Refugee and
Migration Policy has been through a number of changes in the past 20 years,
most recently being the division of immigration and settlement policies
into two different departments - Migration Board and Integration Board.
Simultaneously certain immigration responsibilities have been handed over
to the Migration Board from the Federal Police, including detention practices.
Since 1996 the Swedish government has implemented a number of changes
to create a refugee policy that provides a legal and social framework
for a humane and integrated approach to reception, detention, determination,
integration and return.
Certain minimum standards
in detention and return procedures have been established which are undeniably
rooted in the state's consciousness of fundamental universal rights for
all within the nation-state. Swedish law states that all who are held
in detention shall be treated humanely with their dignity respected. 
People smuggling and the risk of asylum seekers absconding, while taken
seriously, are not overemphasised, nor is detention used as a deterrent.
Detention however is used in the initial period to determine the identity
of those that have sought asylum without identification, for investigation
and to realise return. This however must be done with sensitivity and
with civil-rights not being infringed upon beyond freedom of movement.
in Swedish detention centres, such as including riots, mass hunger strikes
and worker safety have been addressed due to comprehensive changes by
the Swedish government following an inquiry in 1997. The changes included:
1) The removal
of private contractors and the police from the detention centres
2) Dividing detention
into 3 categories: initial health, security and health checks; investigation;
and for realising return for individuals at high risk of absconding.
a caseworker system aimed at need and risk assessment and preparing
detainees for all immigration outcomes
4) Increasing transparency
in management and operation, with centres to be run more like closed
institutions than prisons.
5) Ensuring all
staff are trained to work with asylum seekers and show appropriate cultural
and gender sensitivity and respect to all detainees.
6) Increasing access
for NGOs, clergy, researchers, counsellors and the media.
7) Allowing for
freedom of information, such as access to internet, NGOs and the option
to speak to the media
8) Ensuring legal
counsel and the right to appeal is available
9) Ensuring no
children are held in detention for extended periods and removing families
as soon as possible.
If an asylum seeker
living in the community is assessed at being a high risk to abscond just
prior to receiving a final decision they will be placed in detention.
The caseworker system has also encouraged failed refugee claimants in
Sweden to comply and return after a final decision in a number of ways:
1) By providing
'motivational counselling', including coping with a decision and preparation
2) Providing three
options to asylum seekers: voluntary repatriation; escort by caseworkers;
or escort by police.
3) Providing incentives
for those who chose to voluntarily repatriate, including allowing time
to find a third country of resettlement, paying for return flights,
including domestic travel and allowing for some funds for resettlement.
The Swedish refugee
determination process has also been successful in reducing the appeal
time and the need for asylum seekers to access the courts. This has been
1) The incorporation
of a humanitarian and 'other protection needs' category at the initial
2) Allowing for
an independent multi-member tribunal to review the initial decision
on both 'convention' and other grounds.
3) Ensuring all
asylum seekers are represented by legal counsel all both stages of the
refugee determination process.
Sweden is not a "soft
touch" country in regard to detention or deportation issues. Enforcement
of policy is a serious concern for the Government and the Migration Board,
with Sweden having the highest level of returns on negative decisions
in Europe, at over 80%. Over 76% of this group return voluntarily. The
remainder, around 23% are handed over to the police, who only in extreme
cases psychically restrain deportees. No deportee is chemically restrained.
 Major incidents of violence, riots and mass hunger
strikes have not occurred since the Migration Board took over detention
centres in 1997 and introduced changes to policy and practice. The incidence
of suicide attempts has also decreased and there has been little animosity
between staff and detainees. There has proven to be a high level of compliance
with decisions with very few asylum seekers absconding under supervision.
A system of release into the community, after initial health and security
checks, has brought significant reduction in the use of tax payers' money
and in public outcry. Sweden now has the lowest levels of illegal immigrants
living in the community in Europe, with research showing that resettled
refugees integrate quickly into the community with no increase in levels
of welfare dependency or crime. 
An integrated, humane
approach to refugee policy leads to less animosity and fewer problems
in detention centres and a safer working environment. It helps to effectively
enforce expulsion orders and more importantly helps those granted refugee
status and residency to integrate more quickly into society. The link
between immigration and settlement is taken seriously in Sweden, with
the way individuals are treated during the immigration process directly
related to how they adjust and settle into the new country.
The key to the success
of Sweden's integrated approach is its streamlined refugee determination
process and its caseworker system, which oversees an asylum seeker's journey
throughout both reception and detention and onwards to either return or
settlement. It is a system based on informing and empowering the asylum
seeker and assisting bureaucratic decision-makers to make informed decisions
as to whether detention or reception is required and has ensured that
clients are prepared for either return or settlement.
Probably the most
important lesson to be learned from the Swedish experience is that a healthy
migration policy is not based on deterrence or on restrictive policies
or visas but allows for an expeditious refugee determination process and
effectively realises settlement or return. It is a system based on treating
asylum seekers humanely and with a uniformity of rights and entitlements
irrespective of the means of arrival, allowing for the best possible outcome
for both those seeking asylum and for the wider community. It is a system
that has a clear understanding that the asylum seeker experience cannot
be bureaucratically controlled and planned but demands flexibility and
For a copy
of the Swedish Approach to Asylum Seekers contact Grant Mitchell: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rikslagen 18: 1997:432
Swedish Migration Board Statistics, August 2001
Österberg, T: Economic Perspectives on immigrants and Intergenerational
Transmissions, Handelshögskolan, Göteborgsuniversitet, 2000
Much of the research for this paper was based on first-hand experience
at the Carlslund detention centre.
Updated 9 January 2003.