Refugee detention breaches human rights

November 7, 2010

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released a report on the Christmas Island detention centre on October 29, and again called for an end to mandatory detention and offshore processing.

The 75-page report detailed the hostile conditions faced by asylum seekers, including the island’s remote location and limited access to essential services such as legal help, health care, torture and trauma counselling and religious support.

The report said Australia’s detention system breaches fundamental human rights.

Human Rights Commissioner Catherine Branson QC said the remote prison-like centre was only growing worse: “The Commission’s concerns about Christmas Island have been compounded this year by the significant increase in the number of people in detention on the island which has led to overcrowding and deteriorated conditions.”

The AHRC said the policy that denied refugees access to reviews and appeals by sending them to Christmas Island, legally “excised” from Australia for immigration purposes, should be scrapped.

It also criticised the government decision to suspend processing refugees from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, which has resulted in prolonged detention for many people.

In a November 1 statement, an Amnesty International delegation that visited Christmas Island in October said: “It is clear that the long term detention of vulnerable people in remote detention centres is not only unsustainable, but is immensely damaging to those who are seeking our protection.”

Despite mounting evidence that its detention centres were inhumane and worse than prisons, the government continues to expand both onshore and offshore detention.

In the previous week to the AHRC’s visit to Christmas Island, the immigration department began moving people from the island to the Scherger air force base in far-north Queensland.

Up to 300 adult Afghan men were to be held at the remote base near the tip of Cape York. Described as “well-placed” by immigration minister Chris Bowen, the location has been criticised by the Refugee Council of Australia for being too far from support services.

Paul Power from the Refugee Council told ABC News on September 28: "The remoteness of the location is going to make it hard for and quite expensive for the sort of services that people in immigration detention require”, he said.

"[The group includes] people that require support for having suffered torture and trauma."

Bowen visited the Christmas Island prison camp on September 22. He did not discuss any of the conditions at the detention centre.

Instead Bowen said on September 23 he was “having a good look at our long terms needs, reviewing the situation in all our detention centres”.

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