Database brings transparency to life in detention

A protest outside Yongah Hill detention centre in April, 2013.

A new website has published the biggest set of immigration detention records in Australia to date. It will provide unprecedented verification of the endemic self-harm and psychiatric crises that refugee rights campaigners have independently reported for years.

The Detention Logs was launched this month as an independent project “committed to transparency and accountability in Australia’s immigration detention network”. The logs hold a searchable database of more than 7600 recorded incidents that took place in refugee detention facilities between October 2009 and May 2011.

Incidents include detainee self-harm, hunger strikes, “riots”, assaults, use of restraints, deportations, and deaths.

The reports were obtained under Freedom of Information laws, used after the department of immigration previously refused to grant requests for documentation.

The producers of the site said on New Matilda on June 7: “Because the department won’t make this information accessible to the public we’ve put it together ourselves. Detention Logs has compiled the most comprehensive dataset ever collected about the lives of men, women and children in Australia’s immigration detention centres.”

The project is partnered with New Matilda, the Global Mail and the Australian Guardian.

The Global Mail used the data to create “Behind the Wire: A graphic portrait of life in detention”. A grid of boxes over the calendar period allows the audience to read all the individual incidents in mouse-over text, click for more detail and “flag” incidents they believe others should see. Incidents with the most flags grow brighter on the grid.

The Guardian Australia said Christmas Island, the only offshore detention centre at the time, had the highest number of self-harm incidents, Curtin detention centre in northern Western Australia had the most cases of “voluntary starvation” or hunger strikes, and Sydney’s Villawood detention centre had “the highest use of force, restraints and observation rooms by staff in the network” and was “the highest for abusive and aggressive behaviour from detainees”.

The audience can also “adopt an incident” and help apply for more detailed reports of individual events through freedom of information. This is being run through RightToKnow.org.au, a freedom of information (FOI) clearinghouse that navigates the FOI request process for its users. More than 50 requests have already been lodged.

FOI has been used by refugee advocates previously to uncover shocking rates of self-harm among children and the immigration department’s habit of spin and denial.

The Darwin Asylum Seekers Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) has focused on applying for specific, detailed incident reports from the city’s three detention centres. In April the group obtained documents proving that their claim that lip-stitching took place in July 2011, which immigration denied at the time.

Ongoing claims of widespread self-harm among children, including cutting and overdosing, was also proven via FOI-obtained documentation.

The Detention Logs will continue to add to this growing body of evidence for refugee rights campaigners and advocates to expose and condemn the suffering and damage being done to refugees in Australia’s name.