Call to reverse new visitor restrictions in detention centres

Refugee advocates seek signatories for petition to House of Representatives

PHOTO: DIAC via Wikimedia commons

By Chris Shearer

February 20 2018
Refugee advocates have slammed new restrictions on visiting Australian onshore immigration detention centres, arguing they serve no purpose beyond deterring visitors and isolating detainees. 

Under the new nation-wide changes implemented on 22 January, personal visitors must now apply online by creating a Department of Immigration and Border Patrol (DIBP) IMMI account, allow five business days for their application to be processed, and provide 100 points of identification at application and arrival. Birth certificates, passports, citizenship certificates and IMMICards are worth 70 points, with various other secondary documents ranging from 40 to 25 points.  

As well as this, personal visitors may only visit one detainee once per day unless they have special approval, effectively outlawing formerly-common group visits.

In a factsheet outlining the changes, the DIBP said: “The safety and wellbeing of all people in detention centres is put at risk when contraband items such as drugs and weapons are introduced. The changes to visitor entry conditions are being made to increase the safety of all visitors, detainees and staff by ensuring the Department has accurate information about the identity of individuals visiting its facilities.”

But Joshua Millard, a student minister at St Jude’s, Parkville, who has regularly visited the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) detention centre in Broadmeadows over the past 18 months, says the new changes are overly stringent and have hindered personal visiting.  

“There’s just fewer people going because the visiting system is more difficult,” he told TMA. “You have some situations where you’ve got middle-aged men who are from the Middle East or certain cultural backgrounds where it just doesn’t feel appropriate for young women to go visit them, whereas in group visits that wasn’t a problem. But because they’ve been forced to be individual visits, we’re not able to be culturally sensitive.”

Mr Millard said he was concerned about the impact on detainees’ mental health and social wellbeing if the current restrictions were not eased. 

“Because detainees are getting fewer visits, life is obviously more monotonous, it’s obviously less encouraging… some people don’t get visited at all anymore.”

Mr Millard, along with others from the “Friends of MITA” network, have drafted a petition to the House of Representatives asking that the “unsustainable” visiting procedures be rolled back and that community consultation take place before any future changes are enacted. 

The petition also calls for discussions on easing past changes, such as a ban on bringing fresh food for detainees and reducing lengths of visits. 

Those wishing to sign the petition must do so before it closes on 7 March. 

“It’s just so different from what it was,” Mr Millard said. “Within my short 18 months, it’s very very different from when I first went.”

“They’ve put their foot down in a way that we don’t know what to do with.”

If you would like to sign the petition please click here.