Concerns about systemic cruelty and arbitrariness in Australia’s immigration detention system raised with two United Nations bodies ahead of their visits to Australia
Key issues noted about Australia’s immigration detention system:
- The increasing systemic cruelty of Australia’s immigration detention facilities
- The design, staffing and procedures of immigration detention follow a prison or correctional facility model even though the Australian Government claims that immigration detention is not punitive
- The lack of independent scrutiny and transparency, even as Australia continues to detain children, refugees with serious medical needs, and other vulnerable people
The Australia OPCAT Network is a group of organisations, academics and individuals with an interest in the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), a treaty that Australia ratified in December 2017. The OPCAT requires the member states to introduce a system of regular inspection visits to all places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
At the end of January 2020, the Australia OPCAT network published a comprehensive report focusing on key issues related to Australia’s implementation of its obligations under the OPCAT.
The Refugee Council of Australia worked with the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture and a number of academic professionals to draft the section on Australia’s immigration detention policy (onshore, offshore and at sea). Feedback provided by detention advocates, detention visitors and a number of other groups and organisations assisted greatly in presenting a more comprehensive picture of the conditions and challenges in detention facilities onshore and offshore.
The report has been submitted to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, ahead of their visits to Australia in early 2020. In addition to immigration detention policies, the report also covers the detention of people with disabilities, issues related to prisons, youth justice, police custody and aged care. It also focuses on the perspective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their treatment in custodial settings in Australia.
This report provides an opportunity to raise the main issues of concern with the UN bodies and flag the issues they need to investigate and the facilities they should consider visiting. By referencing publications, case studies and testimonies from civil society, the immigration detention section details concerns about:
- the increasing systemic cruelty and arbitrariness in Australia’s immigration detention system, including the indefinite detention of certain categories of people, with some spending more than 10 years in detention,
- increased securitisation of the facilities, including use of restraints and seclusion, lack of outside excursions and the challenges the detention visitors experience on a daily basis,
- inadequate provision of healthcare, including to those offshore and to the people who have been transferred to Australia for the purpose of medical treatment,
- the absence of effective scrutiny and transparency of immigration detention,
- lack of access to legal advice,
- the detention of children,
- the irreparable harm caused by Australia’s offshore policies, and
- the lack of transparency and accountability about push-back policies and detention at sea.
As the report reiterates, it aims to show that “*while immigration detention has been defined by the Australian Government as being ‘administrative’ rather than punitive, the design, staffing and procedures of many places where non-citizens are deprived of their liberty follow a ‘correctional services’ [prison] model. Detainees persistently describe the experience of detention as akin to being punished*”.