8 December 2023

Overhaul mandatory detention: Advocates

There were more than 1000 people in immigration detention at 30 April 2023. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

12 July 2023

Refugee advocates say Australia’s migration policies need to be overhauled to prevent people being unfairly deprived of their liberty for years.

It comes after The Age reported that Australia’s Home Affairs department unlawfully detained 115 people between 2018 and 2022, according to documents it had obtained under Freedom of Information.

Amnesty International Australia refugee coordinator Graham Thom said the news report highlighted some of the real issues with the way detention was used in Australia and the country’s mandatory detention policy.

Dr Thom said there would continue to be instances where people were automatically and inappropriately detained because of them.

He said under the current policy if someone was deemed to be unlawfully in Australia they would have to be detained.

Read more: Refugee policies remain unforgiving, positive steps being made toward inclusion: Advocates

“These are people who aren’t being locked up for committing a crime. This is for administrative purposes. We’re depriving people of their liberty for years for administrative reasons,” Dr Thom said.

He said checks and balances to ensure that detention was used as a last resort, and for the shortest time possible, were missing.

That was despite international guidelines about detention, Dr Thom said.

Commonwealth Ombudsman Iain Anderson said in May that there had been a decrease in the number of people inappropriately detained and the average length of time they were held since 2017.

Mr Anderson said the Home Affairs department was addressing issues raised in the Ombudsman’s investigation into people who are detained in immigration detention to  mitigate risks associated with inappropriate detention.

But Dr Thom said there were about 1,123 people still being held in Australia in mainland as well as offshore detention centres.

“The length of time some of those people have spent in detention is outrageous. Detention really should be for the shortest possible time and only where absolutely necessary,” Dr Thom said. “The fact that you can have people detained for years without having a resolution to their particular circumstances, is totally unacceptable. We are a real outlier in that.”

Melbourne Bishop Philip Huggins said it was important that Australia’s Home Affairs department under its new minister, Clare O’Neil, continued to reform its policies and update its visa system.

He said it was significant that there was transparent information about the migration system available, and that mistakes reached public attention.

“But there still needs to be a just outcome for the people who have been impacted,” Bishop Huggins said.

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