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Immigration detention concerns deepen


The Australian Human Rights Commission has released a report that details increasing concern for the human rights of people held in Australia’s immigration detention facilities, with the report released at a time when the plight of refugees is particularly heightened in the consciousness of Christians

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The Australian Human Rights Commission has recently released a report that details increasing concern for the human rights of people held in Australia’s immigration detention facilities.

The report contains findings and recommendations arising from the Commission’s most recent in-person inspections of Australia’s immigration detention facilities, including ‘alternative places of detention’ (APODs). These inspections occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can and we must do better to protect the human rights of people in immigration detention,” Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow said.

“Over many years, the Commission has identified a large number of individuals for whom closed detention is not justified under human rights law. Especially given the COVID-19 pandemic, anyone who does not pose a significant security risk should be released into community detention.

“In 2019 the average period an individual was held in immigration detention was close to or just above 500 days. In September 2020 the average period of immigration detention was 581 days – the highest ever recorded, and much higher than any country comparable to Australia.

“This report shows how human rights problems are frequently made worse the longer an individual is detained. For example, at the time of inspection, 196 refugees and asylum seekers were in immigration detention, after being transferred to Australia for medical reasons from Papua New Guinea or Nauru. The Commission holds grave concern for the physical and mental health of a large number of these people, who have been in closed detention for long periods.”

The report makes a number of practical recommendations to improve the health and wellbeing of people whom the Government determines must remain in closed detention.

These recommendations would enable genuine risks in immigration detention to be managed safely, while also protecting the human rights of all people held in immigration detention.

The Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt said that the plight of refugees and people seeking asylum is heightened in the consciousness of Christians during Advent and Christmas.

“The message of Christmas reminds us that we are to look for the presence of Christ in the ‘little ones of God’. The face of every refugee is the face of Jesus. When you did or didn’t do it for one of the little ones you did or didn’t do it for me (Matthew 25),” Dr Catt said.

“At the heart of the Christian message is the idea of enabling people to flourish. This includes setting the prisoner free (Luke 4). Often times, we think of those in prison only through the lens of those imprisoned by the legal system after being legitimately tried for criminal activity.

“There are many people throughout the world who are held in prison-like conditions despite being innocent and without the benefit of legal processes.

“The Australian Government is one of the regimes that carries out this destructive practice. It amounts to torture. Those held in such conditions not only do not flourish, but are slowly but surely destroyed. Innocent people destroyed.”

The Department of Home Affairs has issued a response to this report, and that response is included alongside the report. The Department agrees, in whole or in part, with nine of the 44 recommendations in the report.

The Commission has urged the Government to give further consideration to all of the report’s recommendations.

You can read the report on the Commission’s website here.

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