On 23 February 2010 Amnesty International (Amnesty) released an initial report
of its findings from a series of visits to immigration detention facilities around the country. Amnesty has been consistently campaigning
against the policy of mandatory detention for many years, and this is one of its most highly critical reports to date.
It paints a damning picture of Australia’s mandatory detention policy, highlighting the harsh conditions in which people are being held and the numerous mental health problems suffered by detainees due to ‘the indefinite nature of their imprisonment’
The report accuses the government of ‘blatantly contravening’ international human rights standards and urges the abandonment of indefinite detention.
The report recommends a number of improvements be made to improve standards in most detention facilities, and that some be closed altogether. It acknowledges that attempts are being made to improve conditions in some centres, however it concludes that the remoteness of some centres, in particular Curtin Immigration Detention Centre, in combination with the length of time people are being detained, means that human rights abuses and subsequent mental health issues amongst detainees are inevitable.
Mental health concerns are a particular focus of the report, noting that:
Among the asylum seekers who had been in detention for extended periods,
self harm and attempted suicides were talked about as a fact of life. The use of sleeping pills and other medication was also widespread, with many asylum seekers interviewed reported feeling like they needed medication to make it through each day, while at the same time anxious about the long term effects of their usage.
Amnesty is not alone it its criticism of the human rights abuses inherent in the policy of mandatory detention, and the mental health implications for detainees. Similar concerns have been raised by numerous stakeholders, including refugee advocates
, mental health professionals
and the Australian Human Rights Commission
A further, more detailed report of Amnesty’s inspections of detention facilities is expected to be released later in the year. An overview of the policy of mandatory detention since it was introduced in 1992, and the different detention facilities in use in Australia can be found in the recent Parliamentary Library publication Immigration detention in Australia