23 February 2012

Amnesty International says Australian immigration authorities should close detention centres

After an 11 day tour of Australian immigration detention centres, international human rights organisation Amnesty International has published their findings in which they conclude human rights violations are occurring and Australia must close several of their detention centres.

Australia visa

Amnesty International has published a scathing report concerning conditions at several of Australia's detention centres.

Amnesty International conducted the tour of the Australian immigration detention centres after reports of overcrowding, rioting and escapes at several of the country's centres. The first reports from the centre were generally positive, with commendations for improved facilities and assistance from authorities.

However, several doubts were raised about the mental condition of the detainees, particularly those who had been in detention for substantial amounts of time, some more than three years.

After visiting Curtin detention centre in Western Australia, which houses 860 male detainees, the Amnesty delegation recommended its immediate closure.

"After speaking with countless asylum-seekers whose mental health has been destroyed by this system, it is morally reprehensible that this policy has continued for so long," said Graham Thom, refugee co-ordinator at Amnesty International.

"Across every facility we visited what was evident was the stress caused by prolonged detention, and the uncertainty which continues to traumatise innocent people who are still waiting behind fences."

Amnesty International's report reiterates that recommendation along with several others, saying the organisation was "appalled that this policy has continued for so long".

The report recommends that asylum seekers should be detained for no more than 30 and all remote centres should be closed immediately with a future focus on community detention.

The report described the majority of Australia's detention centres as isolated, hopeless places were suicides were common and reliance on sedatives and other medication to make it through the days was rife.

Communication with the outside world, particularly with legal aid, was exceptionally poor with more than half the phones tested out of order and Internet access which prevented downloading even documents from lawyers while security at Wickham Point in Darwin had unnecessary levels of security.

Darwin's Northern Immigration Detention Centre was highlighted for its much publicised hunger strike in 2011 during which several detainees sewed their own mouths shut; the report labelled this as "totally inappropriate" for a detention centre.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said in an emailed response that the government was making efforts to reduce the number of people in detention:

"In the past 16 months we have moved more than 3600 children, families and vulnerable people into community arrangements, either into community detention or on bridging visas with work rights.

"People who remain in detention facilities are treated humanely and have appropriate access to health care and education, as well as a variety of activities and excursions."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge their Australian visa applications with the Australian High Commission.

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