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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention


here to return to the Submission Index

Submission to National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

Hotham Mission

Alternative approaches to

asylum seekers:

Hotham Mission as a Model of Community Release


1) Background

to Hotham's work with asylum seekers

2) Asylum Seekers in the Community

3) Addressing the needs of asylum seekers in the


4) The transition from detention to the community

5) Positive Outcomes

6) Appendix 1: General Community Release Issues

7) Appendix 2: Summary of the Swedish Model of Detention

Asylum Seeker

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.

Housing Work:

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


Based Housing


Boarder Arrangement



Seddon - 5


Housing 4

Wombat, Essendon, Keilor, Footscray


-based - 6



Ivanhoe - 4


housing 1

St Vincent THM


- based - 3



Pascoe Vale

- 4

Cantebury -


Unit 1 - 5

Unit 2 - 3

Unit 3 - 3



Infullife -


UNOH Mission

Springvale - 6

Collins St,

Baptist - 2

Outer Easter

AS Network,

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.

Grant Mitchell-

Project Coordinator

Stancea Vichie-

Project Development

Ruth Wardlaw-

LinkUp Support

Marilyn Porter,

Sacha Goldman, Emelia and Kevin Lawson

- Housing Support

Nancy Morena,

Oliva Walker, Kieran Gill, Katherine Marshall,

Victoria Rodin, Juan Peake, Ciara Cross - Outreach Support

Stina Kelly-

Student Placement


Assistant - Sue Andersson

LinkUp Volunteers

- 46

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

been submitted.


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.

  • Referral

    - 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


1) Individual


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.

2) Provision

of Support

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.

Before releasing

a detainee DIMA's Compliance section require a guarantee that the Project

will be responsible for:

1. Providing a

fixed address

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.

1,2,3) Housing,

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.

4,5) Supervision

and Compliance

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

have absconded.


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

3) Negotiations

with Compliance

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

travel cards.

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

Release Issues)




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….."

Grant Mitchell

Project Coordinator




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

Australian citizen

5) No primary decision

within 6 months

Also Immigration

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

are required:

  • 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
  • Collaboration

    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:

Health Issues:

This includes access to Medicare and mainstream services, as well

as specialised a Refugee Health Team, for independent, trauma sensitive

health assessments and counselling.

Housing Options:

Cluster housing, open hostels, community/church housing/ transitional


Living allowance:

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.

Community Agencies/Volunteers:

The composition, role and coordination of volunteer support and social

orientation, similar to the Community Resettlement Support Scheme with

links to ethnic communities

Appropriate staff

training Training in working with working with trauma and cross cultural


Commonwealth funding

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

of Detention

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. [1]

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.

Previous problems

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.

3) Implementing

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

to return

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

achieved by:

1) The incorporation

of a humanitarian and 'other protection needs' category at the initial

decision-making stage.

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.

[2] 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. [3]

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

compassion. [4]

Grant Mitchell


For a copy

of the Swedish Approach to Asylum Seekers contact Grant Mitchell:


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.