30 March 2012

Parliamentary committee recommends 90 day limit for Australian immigration detention

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After an extensive investigation, a bipartisan parliamentary committee has published its findings in which several changes to the Australian immigration detention system have been recommended, most notably a limit of 90 days to be placed on how long detainees can be held.

Australian immigration

The conditions in detention centres have been at the forefront of Australian politics led to protests and riots last year.

The committee, chaired by Labor MP Daryl Melham, made a total of 31 recommendations to Australian immigration authorities, although only 16 of them had complete agreement between the opposing MPs on the committee.

The committee's main conclusion was that "all reasonable steps be taken to limit detention to a maximum of 90 days," and in cases where detainees were held for longer "The Department of Immigration and Citizenship [should] be required to publish...the reasons for continued detention."

The Australian immigration issue has been an ongoing debate since riots broke out in the Christmas Island detention centre in 2011. The government has since been trying to reduce the numbers of detainees held by granting an Australian visa and releasing those detainees deemed to be low risk into community detention.

However, reports of detainees being medicated and repeatedly requesting medical attention hasn't eased the pressure on the government to address the issue.

"Evidence overwhelmingly indicates that prolonged detention exacts a heavy toll on people and most particularly on their mental health and well being," said Mr Melham.

"One study by the physicians for human rights found clinically significant symptoms of depression were present in 86% of detainees, anxiety in 77% and post traumatic stress disorder in 50%.

"The committee's fundamental conclusion is that asylum seekers should reside in held detention for as little time as is practicable," said Mr Melham. "The committee believes the current system does not strike an appropriate balance.

"Less harmful, far more cost effective alternatives are available and should be pursued."

Mr Melham commended the government's efforts to reduce the numbers in detention but urged for more efforts, saying that detention was an expensive and impractical solution which benefitted no one.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen welcomed the report and would be providing a full response.

"We want to see fewer people in detention, and we believe they should remain there for as little time as possible," he said in a statement.

Mr Bowen cited increased use of the bridging visa to place more people in community detention.

"More than 3,400 people have been placed in community detention since October 2010, while almost 1,100 boat arrivals have been granted bridging visas to date."

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