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Previous chapters of this report explored the key features of
immigration detention, as well as the reasons for and effects of prolonged
detention. The Committee considered a sizeable volume of evidence on the
consequences of the current system on mental health outcomes among the
detention population, and concluded that a different policy framework was
needed to reduce the amount of time people spend in detention facilities.
This chapter will look at ways of transitioning asylum seekers and
refugees from detention centres. Specifically, the chapter will look at the ways
people are being managed by the immigration system while they are in community
detention or on bridging visas, the two main options available to the
Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) as alternatives to held
The Committee believes that, with appropriate exceptions, processing
asylum claims while people are in community detention or on bridging visas
offers a workable alternative to held detention in facilities, and in turn
better implementation of the government's New Directions policy.
Recent expansion of the immigration detention network
There has been a significant increase in the number of irregular
maritime arrivals (IMAs) in recent years, leading to a growth in the number of
detention facilities on the Australian mainland. These were outlined in Chapter
The past year has also seen a significant increase in the use of
alternatives to held detention such as bridging visas and community detention. This
is the result of a shift in the fundamental conceptual underpinning of
immigration detention policy. As put by DIAC Secretary Andrew Metcalfe, the
focus has shifted to whether people need to be detained from an
immigration processing point of view, or whether they can be conditionally
released but available for the immigration process:
Based upon the experience we have had over the years, we
believe that we can continue a proper process of immigration assessment about
status without the need for everyone to be in held detention facilities. That
obviously has benefits for cost and benefits for the individuals themselves in
relation to their circumstances.
Bridging visas (BVs) are temporary, non-substantive visas.
They allow non-citizens to reside lawfully in Australia, and thereby 'avoid
being subject to mandatory detention.'
Asylum seekers are generally issued with Bridging Visa E (BVE). This is
a temporary visa open to a number of groups of people other than asylum
seekers, but it is the one most commonly used for asylum seekers. Under the
conditions of a BVE, asylum seekers have the right to seek work, and may have
limited access to some basic assistance from the government. This assistance is
means tested and only extended where it is necessary to allow someone to
continue to live in the community.
A holder of a bridging visa becomes a lawful non-citizen not subject to
mandatory detention. Circumstances in which bridging visas may be granted
include those in which a non-citizen:
- has made an
application for a substantive visa which has not been decided;
- has applied for
revocation of an automatic student visa cancellation;
- has applied for
merits review of a decision to refuse an application for a substantive visa, of
a decision to cancel a visa, or of a decision not to revoke a cancellation;
- has applied for
judicial review of a decision in relation to a substantive visa;
- is awaiting the
outcome of a request for the exercise of the Minister’s intervention powers;
- is in criminal
- is making, or is
the subject of, arrangements to depart Australia.
There have been a number of important policy shifts during the course of
this inquiry following a 2011 High Court ruling which curbed plans for asylum
seekers to be processed in third countries. The Prime Minister and Minister for
Immigration announced that the government would be placing more IMAs on
bridging visas, where appropriate and once they have passed identity, security
and character checks.
As a consequence, the government has had to prepare contingency plans in
the event of increased offshore arrivals, and has decided to make more use of
existing mechanisms previously used predominantly for onshore arrivals.
In November 2011 it was announced that a number of asylum seekers would
be released on bridging visas under the new framework of expanded bridging visa
use. The announcement made clear that asylum seekers on a positive pathway,
that is, those who have been found to be refugees, or those who had not yet
commenced the independent review process, would now be considered for placement
in the community through bridging visas. The Committee was informed that people
who had spent the longest time in detention would be considered first.
Since then and as at 13 February 2012, 257 asylum seekers had been
granted BVEs, with around another 100 scheduled to be issued the following day.
By 28 February 2012, 495 people who were in detention had been granted
BVEs and were due for release. These were all people who had passed initial
health, identity and character checks.
The Department advised plans for further releases under the BVE program, with
the potential to for hundreds more to be released each month:
The rate at which we are currently processing people would
see us releasing about 400 people per month on bridging visas.
Whereas previously bridging visas had been available but not generally
used for asylum seekers arriving by boat, under the new framework the following
criteria were to be applied to determine priority in issuing BVEs to asylum
the length of time spent in detention;
any vulnerabilities, such as identified torture or trauma experiences;
behavioural record during time spent in detention; and
the ability of family and friends living in the community to
provide accommodation and support.
At present, all refugees and asylum seekers (except refugees with
adverse security assessments and refugees/asylum seekers with problematic
behavioural management histories) are eligible for BVEs. DIAC representatives
explained how new groups of detainees were now being considered for BVEs:
In addition to being 1A met or at merits review, we also took
into account whether people had adverse security or not, obviously, or people
who may have had behavioural issues while they were in the detention facilities
as well. With that in mind, we are now starting to work on other groups as well
and also starting to consider people who are at JR [judicial review]. My team
has been working closely with Ms Pope's [DIAC] team, particularly for some people
who might be assessed as vulnerable and who are at the JR stage, to have those
people in community detention if bridging visas cannot work at this stage.
The Committee commends DIAC for its considerable efforts to prioritise
the release on BVEs of asylum seekers who have spent the longest time in
detention. The Committee understands that a number of criteria are applied when
deciding whether to release an individual into the community on a BVE or place
them in community detention. Although these criteria have been publicly stated
a number of times by both DIAC and the Minister, the Committee is aware that no
clear, published guidelines exist. The Committee believes that publication of
the criteria for deciding whether an individual is placed in community
detention, or released into the community on a bridging visa, would be
The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and
Citizenship consider publishing criteria for determining whether asylum seekers
are placed in community detention or on bridging visas.
Once issued, BVEs allow the holder to work, but not receive Centrelink
payments. Asylum seekers retain access to modest government-funded support
whilst in the community.
The Committee heard arguments questioning the requirement for asylum
seekers or refugees on BVEs to work. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)
raised specific concerns around language impediments compromising safety:
With people coming out on the bridging visa, my understanding
is that the government would like them to get jobs. We have said it is
dangerous for people to work if they do not speak English. Particularly working
in factories and those sorts of low-paid work, which is where they will find
their jobs, they need to speak English in order to be safe, and so we have
asked that they consider some sort of English classes to assist them.
We would not in any way stand in the way of people coming out
of detention, because we know that that is a life and death situation, but we
run an employment program and we know that people need support to find work.
They come from cultures where the idea of a resume does not exist; jobs are
found through family networks et cetera. So what we do is train people up in
how to go to an interview, how to find work and all those things.
Gilbert and Tobin Centre of Public Law expressed serious concerns with
BVEs. While those on BVEs have entitlements to work in theory, in practice they
are often unable to find work due to obstacles such as a lack of photo
identification and the short duration of the visa. The requirement for them to
work and support themselves means that many 'face poverty and homelessness as a
result of these conditions.'
Gilbert and Tobin added:
Placing asylum seekers in situations where they are unable to
work and are not receiving sufficient social assistance may place Australia in
breach of its obligations under article 7 of the ICCPR. In the UK, the courts
have found that the removal of subsistence support from asylum seekers
resulting in their destitution was a breach of these rights. While the House of
Lords acknowledged that there is no general public duty to house the homeless
or provide for the destitute, it said that the State does have such a duty if
an asylum seeker ‘with no means and no alternative sources of support, unable
to support himself, is, by the deliberate action of the state, denied shelter,
food or the most basic necessities of life’.
On 29 February 2012 the Department informed the Committee that
approximately 13 out of 495 people who had been released on bridging visas
since November 2011 had been able to find employment to date, noting that 140
of the 495 had only received their visa on the previous day. Of the 107-strong
cohort released by the end of December 2011, 13 had found employment by 7
Seeking to better understand how people released from detention on
bridging visas were supported through the transition to finding employment, the
Committee asked DIAC about the support services available. The Department
explained that people were indeed assisted, not merely released from detention
centres and expected to be self-sufficient from the start. This is done by
first assessing them for support under the Community Assistance Support (CAS)
scheme, which can provide them with accommodation for up to six weeks if
The CAS program was established in 2006 as the 'Community Care Pilot'
and renamed in 2009. The program provides immigration information and advice,
as well as counselling, health and welfare support to vulnerable individuals
and families within the immigration system residing lawfully in the community
while their cases are being processed. The CAS program differs from the
community detention program in that people may have entitlements to work,
access to Medicare and study. They are also responsible for sourcing their own
accommodation, which has led to some problems and criticism:
Significant numbers of individuals within the CAS program
remain at risk of becoming destitute or homeless, despite receiving assistance,
due to their extreme vulnerability. This places Australia at risk of breaching
its obligations under international human rights law not to subject individuals
to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
DIAC Deputy Secretary John Moorhouse explained that newly released BVE
holders also have access to a case worker provided by the Red Cross, if
required. After the initial, transitional period:
...the people then move on either to be independent by
working or through their own resources, or, if necessary, they have access to
the Asylum Seeker Support Scheme, which ....provides 89 per cent of Special
Assessment of income support includes several factors, such as whether
individuals have existing family links within the community which they can rely
on for accommodation. Those who have family support bypass some of the
available network support. Those who receive income support are expected to use
it to cover rent for accommodation sourced by the Red Cross while they
transition towards employment and self-sufficiency.
Community detention, or residence determination as it is otherwise
known, was introduced in June 2005. The term 'residence determination' refers
to the process by which the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship specifies
that a person may live in community detention.
It enables certain asylum seekers to reside in the community without needing to
be accompanied by an officer while their applications for refugee status are
being processed. Residence determination does not give a person lawful status
or the right to work or study in Australia.
Numbers in community detention
In August 2011 DIAC provided the Committee with the following figures on
people transferred into community detention:
Between 18 October 2010 and 27 July 2011 1601 individuals
(823 adults, 514 accompanied children and 264 unaccompanied minors) have been
approved for community detention:
1504 individuals (769 adults, 486 accompanied children and 249
unaccompanied minors) have been moved into community detention
69 individuals (30 adults and 25 children and 14 unaccompanied
minors) were approved for community detention but granted protection visas
before they moved into community detention
- 28 individuals (24 adults and 4 accompanied minors)
have been approved by the Minister and are in the process of moving into
Since then, however, and during the course of this inquiry, the
community detention program has continued to expand at a rapid rate. DIAC
estimated that, as at 13 February 2012, there were 1576 people in community
detention. Included in this figure were 1047 adults and 529 children. Of the
529 children, 133 were unaccompanied minors.
Many more people had been approved by February 2012, but not yet moved
out of detention facilities and into community detention. DIAC advised that as
at 15 February 2012, over 3200 people had been approved for community
detention. Of these, 1582 had already been moved.
There were approximately 700 children in 'held detention' on October
2010. As at 17 February 2012, there were more than 660 children already in or
transitioning into community detention. This figure represents 64 per cent of
asylum seeker children. Of the 660 children, 212 were unaccompanied minors.
This figure represents 57 per cent of unaccompanied asylum seeker minors.
By 14 March 2012, the number of children in held detention stood at 479,
while 544 were in community detention. Children in the community detention
program have access to schooling, which includes English language classes.
These shifting numbers make establishing a firm grasp on the number of
people going through the system difficult. The Committee is aware that these
numbers do not reflect the totality of the work DIAC does to process people out
of the immigration detention system and onto either permanent visas, or
departure from the country. Numbers cited for the community detention
population do not include people already on the other side of the immigration
process, and, as pointed out by Mr Andrew Metcalfe, targets are by
definition difficult to reach:
[F]igures will show that a large number of people have been
and are still in community detention...We were getting close to the target or
the commitment of the majority being in community detention by the end of June
only to find that some had been granted visas, and so the target was coming
back again. We were very strongly committed to moving children and families
into community detention but our own visa processes were continuing to make
that a moving objective.
How community detention works
Where the Minister considers it appropriate and in the public interest,
he or she has the power to determine that detainees are to reside in a specific
location rather than in a detention facility under held detention arrangements.
This power is non-delegable and non-compellable.
In practice, residence determinations allow people to be moved into community
detention, where they reside and move about freely in the community without
needing to be accompanied or restrained by an officer.
When they are identified as appropriate for community detention, asylum
seekers must be informed of, and agree to, the conditions of their residence
Once placed, they must only reside at the address specified by the Minister,
and must satisfy a number of conditions, including reporting regularly to DIAC and/or
their service provider.
Like others in immigration detention, people in community detention are
allocated a departmental case manager. This officer is the detainee's primary contact
point with DIAC and works to resolve the client's immigration status.
People held in community detention currently do not have the right to
work. Their basic financial needs are met by government funding, and they are
financially supported by DIAC during their stay in community detention:
Clients in community detention are supported by the
department through a financial allowance which is set at 89% of the Centrelink
income support payments (excluding rent assistance and family benefits
payment). Clients are expected to cover their food, other groceries, public
transport and other costs such as clothing from this allowance. Educational
expenses and travel to and from school for minors in community detention are
covered by the department.
It is important to note that unaccompanied minors can access extra
In addition unaccompanied minors are able to access a $200
seasonal clothing allowance in the first year. The cost of organised activities
for unaccompanied minors of up to $2000 per year is also covered by the
department, for example to cover the cost of a soccer club membership, art or
music classes, or excursions during school holidays.
The Committee explored the question of work rights for people in
community detention. Ms Tanya Jackson-Vaughan, Executive Director of the
Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), felt that people on bridging visas benefited
from more self-sufficiency than those in community detention because of their
ability to earn their own money:
If they are given work rights they are less of a burden on
Australia, because they are actually supporting themselves. If they are not
given work rights the Australian taxpayer has to pay for their food and board.
People on bridging visas in the community, who are often given work rights, are
more self-sufficient. It is a better way of integrating into society if you are
involved working in the community.
RACS did not explicitly propose extending work rights to people in
community detention, but did not see why doing so would pose a problem, either.
Gilbert and Tobin Centre of Public Law expressly advocated extending the right
to work to people in community detention.
The Chair of the Council for Immigration Services and Status Resolution
(CISSR) was of the view that more people should be placed on bridging visas instead
of in community detention:
...[A]t the moment in community detention you do not have
work rights, so a father or a mother with a young family in community detention
is not necessarily going to be able to work and take responsibility for feeing
the family and for its welfare in an independent way. I think that is
counterproductive. I also think it is more expensive to the community, whereas
if some people were able to work on bridging visas, as well as have appropriate
amounts of assistance—I am not talking about enormous amounts of assistance
every day and so forth—to help facilitate that then it would be more effective
and cost-effective for us. It would mean people would have to function more independently,
like anyone else in the community. Also, I think it would help sustain their
While the Committee is aware of the virtues of bridging visas, it is
clear that not everybody in community detention is a good candidate for such a
visa. Living on a bridging visa requires a far higher degree of self-reliance.
DIAC is looking at moving people from community detention onto bridging visas
[W]e will be looking at who in community detention could be
considered for the grant of a bridging visa where that might work for them and
for us. The main issue is not putting someone who is vulnerable at risk by
granting work rights then the person has to be self-sufficient, particularly in
relation to accommodation. So it is balancing those risks. That is the reason
we are not intending to grant bridging visas to unaccompanied minors. But to
the single adult men, if they are recovering and feeling up to it and have the
opportunity, then it might be a good.
As more people—including adult men—are moved from held detention into
community detention, anecdotal evidence suggests moving those that are ready
onto bridging visas instead produces positive outcomes:
We now have a growing bank of experience with vulnerable
adult men, and the level of incidents and issues with them is surprisingly low,
to date. They appear to get on with their lives and take the opportunities that
community detention offers. When they are assessed as being in a state where
that might be beneficial to them they also have the opportunity to move onto
bridging visas and therefore to work.
Additionally, the Committee notes that refugees who have passed through
both held and community detention report that the latter system prepares them
for life in the wider Australian community, indicating that community detention
represents a positive stepping stone from held detention to bridging visas
and/or permanent release:
As part of consultation with clients who now have permanent
status and who were previously in detention centres, we asked their opinion of
community detention compared to being detained in a detention centre. There was
an overwhelming opinion that community detention was a very significantly
better alternative to detention centres, better prepares people for life in
Australia (within the boundaries of visa determination), has considerably less
negative impact on mental health and that the government should aim to use this
form of detention for as many people as possible.
The Committee notes concerns outlined earlier that bridging visas do not,
in practice, always allow people to fulfil their obligations to work and
The Committee is firmly of the view that use of the community detention
program must continue to grow in order to take pressure off detention
facilities across the country and curb spiralling mental health problems among
the detainee population.
The Committee is also of the view that bridging visas represent a
positive alternative for people who are ready to take responsibility for
themselves and their families in order to become self-sufficient within the
community. However, the Committee believes that many people are not ready and
cannot cope with moving straight from held detention and onto bridging visas,
particularly victims of torture and trauma and those who have spent a long time
in detention and whose mental health has deteriorated as a consequence. For
this reason the Committee believes DIAC is doing the right thing by placing
most people in community detention rather than on bridging visas. The Committee
urges DIAC to continue regularly assessing people held in community detention
for BVE suitability.
Contracts with Non-Government
DIAC informed the Committee that it had signed a contract with two
non-government organisations (NGOs) to deliver services for people in community
detention, the Australian Red Cross and Life Without Barriers.
Life Without Barriers is contracted to assist the Australian Red Cross
in providing support to unaccompanied minors. The Red Cross provides care and
welfare for those in community detention under contract with DIAC. The key
features of this contract are:
accommodation is sourced which is suitable to client’s needs;
accommodation is furnished according to the standard household
client is provided with a financial allowance;
client has access to health services facilitated, including
mental health as required;
client is supported to enrol children at schools, use public
transport and amenities, and linked with community groups and other providers
a client care plan is prepared for every client outlining their
needs and support;
monthly reports prepared for each client/family group; and
all incidents that occur while in community detention are
reported to the department.
The Red Cross is also required to provide 24-hour, live-in care and
support for unaccompanied minors.
The Red Cross has in turn entered into a number of sub-contracted arrangements
in order to deliver care and services to people in community detention.
Organisations providing services include AMES, Anglicare, the Multicultural
Development Association, Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project, Uniting Care,
Jesuit Refugee Services, Life Without Barriers, Wesley Mission, Berry St,
Catholic Care, Marist Youth Care and Mackillop Family Services.
The Committee heard that DIAC's community detention partnerships with
NGOs were highly effective:
I would have to say the way in which the department has gone
about implementing that in partnership with a very wide range of NGOs—the
principal one being the Red Cross, but there are over 20 other non-government
organisations doing the work—has been outstanding. The success in putting that
program together in the time frame that it was put together and the outcomes
from it to date, I think, speak for themselves and would bear any scrutiny,
really, in regards to the program's viability but also the program as a means
of effectively managing processing arrangements for people in circumstances
where their wellbeing can be maintained at the most optimal level possible.
Housing for community detention
DIAC works with NGOs to rent a range of properties in which to house
people in community detention:
For the most part, they are houses rented on the open market.
They range anywhere from two-bedroom to four- or five-bedroom houses. The
five-bedroom houses are suitable for a group of unaccompanied minors with a
carer, for example. We also have properties that have been made available to
use by faith-based organisations.
Properties are identified and rented with the assistance of the
Australian Red Cross, which registers its interest with real estate agents
across the country and distributes staff across the states according to the
number of properties available:
The Red Cross is going to real estate agents basically
saying, 'We need properties of this broad description,' and the real estate agents
are responding to that, and so, naturally enough, the ability to respond will
vary city by city. I have visited one family in community detention in
Melbourne to see personally the sorts of circumstances that people are in and I
would describe it as a very modest bungalow in the far outer suburbs, quite
appropriate but certainly not anything grand—far from it.
Care is taken to ensure sensitivity to specific community circumstances
For example, we did not seek property in Brisbane for a time
after the floods, recognising that there might be other people who needed those
properties, so we stayed out of the Brisbane market for a while.
Properties are required to meet state and territory-specific building
code regulations, and key performance indicators outlining the expected
standard are set out in DIAC's contract with the Red Cross. 
Mr Andrew Metcalfe, Secretary of DIAC, stressed that the department is
very careful to avoid competing with low income earners for the bottom end of
the rental market:
We are very conscious of that. Part of the consultations in
moving to the expansion of the community detention scheme, about a year ago,
was consulting with FaHCSIA, the department of housing, who made that very
point as to the competition for rental properties, particularly for people with
low income in certain cities. That, I think, has seen the natural placement of
people vary by city, depending upon the availability of accommodation. But we
are conscious, as Ms Pope has said, of the fact that others are looking in the
same market as well...The only other comment I would make is that we are also
mindful that the services required for people are not just physical
accommodation, but some people may have other needs as well—whether it is torture
or trauma or other needs—that Red Cross would take into account in relation to
their placement in particular cities. The result of that, a year down the
track, as Ms Pope says, is that we tend to be bigger in some cities than
others, and that probably reflects the reality of the market.
Properties are rented in every state and territory except the Northern
...because detention makes a reasonably high call on the
community and property in the Northern Territory already. Also, rental rates
are quite high, occupancy is pretty low and there are a limited number of
services for people in the community. For those reasons, we do not place anyone
in the Northern Territory. This is at this stage, because in the future it
might be viable.
AMES, which provides support services to people in community detention
through a contract with the Red Cross, suggested that DIAC would do well to
discuss with asylum seekers their expectations of the standard of housing
before they are placed in community detention. Providing housing of a standard
which people would not be able to afford once released on a visa could be
counterproductive to helping them cope with future life transitions:
AMES is very familiar with what is realistic housing for HSS
clients and is very aware that where clients must move into poorer quality
housing or housing that is an area with less services when they are granted
permanent visas that this can cause problems.
The Committee believes DIAC has established highly effective relationships
with NGOs, which help deliver what is shaping up to be a very successful
community detention program. The fact that the program is succeeding whilst
undergoing rapid expansion is testimony to the considerable efforts of the
agencies—government and non-government—and individuals involved.
The cost of community detention
In August 2011 DIAC estimated the cost of community detention for
financial year 2010–11 to be $15.734 million.
Funding for the program covers the costs of housing, care for unaccompanied
minors, case workers, an allowance to meet daily living costs and activities
such as recreational excursions. Healthcare is provided by DIAC's contracted
detention health provider, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS).
This gives people access to contracted health providers including GPs, medical
specialists and mental health counsellors; however, they are not eligible for
Non-government organisations (NGOs) are employed by DIAC to ensure that asylum
seekers placed in community detention receive appropriate support. The
Department also provides funding for the work NGOs do to source housing and
cover living expenses.
The Department added that this cost could be attributed to a large
expansion over a short period of time, and could not be extrapolated to
calculate the cost per person:
The costs incurred to date reflect the high initial costs for
the program (such as securing leases, connection fees for utilities and
provision of household goods in each property). These initial costs are higher
than can be expected for future financial years due to the expansion of the
program from around 50 clients in January 2011 to over 1500 in June 2011.
As such, a cost per person per day equation would not
accurately reflect the costs for community detention at this point in time.
This figure was later updated to $17.3 million.
In February 2012, DIAC estimated the cost of community detention for FY2011–12
would run to $150 million in total. The cost for FY2011–12 as at 31 December
2011 was $50.8 million, however this was due to grow in the second half of the
financial year due to a rapid expansion of the community detention program.
These figures, however, are not an exact projection:
...[I]t is an approximate figure...we need to look at how
people stream to community detention as opposed to bridging visas as
well...[B]ridging visas started taking effect in December, so some of the
cohort that were going to community detention might as well go to bridging
visas, and we will need to look at how those clients stream into those
It is clear that these calculations will be more accurate once economies
of scale are realised and there is a more seamless flow of arrivals into
The cost of operating detention
The Committee considered the cost of the community detention program
against the cost of holding people in detention facilities, bearing in mind
that as people are transitioned into community detention the number of people
needing to be managed in detention facilities will reduce.
The department provided the following table indicating estimated costs of
running each detention facility in 2011–12:
Costs are not always attributable to a particular detention centre.
The costs outlined include:
services provided by Serco;
services provided by IHMS;
services provided by the Australian Red Cross;
services provided by Life Without Barriers;
air charters and other travel;
utilities, repairs and maintenance;
communication and IT costs;
education services for IMAs; and
DIAC staff directly involved in the management of detention
The Department stressed that estimated costs are not fixed:
It is important to note that...estimates could vary depending
on dynamic factors such as the number of clients at a facility during the year,
the mix of the client caseload in a facility, specific client needs, processing
times and any change to operational requirements that may be necessary.
To this end, costs are not captured on a per capita per day basis
due to fluctuating cost drivers such as the number of people within a facility
and the services required.
The confirmed costs of running detention facilities across the network in
previous financial years were as follows:
FY2008-09: $147.57 million;
FY2009-10: $295.55 million;
FY2010-11: $772.17 million.
The cost of community detention, both realised and projected, must therefore
be assessed against the cost of holding refugees and asylum seekers in detention
facilities. The costs involved in community detention represent an alternative
application of available resources.
The expenditure on community detention eases financial pressure by
reducing reliance on detention facilities which require far more resources to
operate than the community detention system. Moving asylum seekers and refugees
out of detention facilities and into community detention brings about a very
significant reduction in costs.
How well does community detention
The Committee asked DIAC whether there was ongoing monitoring of the
community detention program to gauge how well the extent to which people are still
able to be processed without being in held detention. The Secretary of DIAC
assured the Committee that placing people in community detention still facilitated
the necessary processing and assessments:
Yes, it has not been entirely without incident, as you would
expect—you would not expect anything involving hundreds of people to be
entirely without incident—but we believe it does provide the department with
the necessary access to our clients in terms of status determination without
them being required to be held in detention facilities, often in fairly remote
The Committee notes that placing people in community detention while
their claims for asylum are being processed has neither impeded the processing
nor resulted in significant additional problems requiring intervention. It has,
however, produced markedly better mental health outcomes for detainees, which
is critical to minimising the harm caused by prolonged detention in confined
facilities. The Committee notes that DIAC is aware of these important benefits:
[P]eople tend to improve in their mental health almost immediately
[upon being moved from facilities and into community detention]. That does not
mean that they do not necessarily have adverse reactions to things associated
with their immigration pathway as they go along, but in general they deal with
those things better than they had before.
The Committee is aware that expansion of the community detention program
received support from many submitters to this inquiry, and that none argued
against further expansion.
Examples are numerous, but include Mr Paris Aristotle, Chair of the Council for
Immigration Services and Status Resolution (CISSR), who lent his support in
Personally, I believe that, given the success of community
detention, it actually would be beneficial to anybody. As for the need to have
very stringent classifications—to date, the priority has been families and
unattached minors, and other vulnerable groups have been incorporated into it
now. It is also being looked at for both single young men and unattached adult
men, and by 'unattached' I mean that they are here without their families and
that is a major concern for them.
The Hon. Catherine Branson QC, President of the Australian Human Rights
The commission also urges the Australian government to make
greater use of community based alternatives to detention, which can be cheaper
and more effective in facilitating immigration processes and are more humane
than holding people in detention facilities for prolonged periods. Australia’s
system of mandatory, prolonged and indefinite detention is in urgent need of
...The commission urges a continued expansion of the
community detention program so that all families and unaccompanied minors as well
as other vulnerable individuals are placed into community detention.
The Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS):
The government’s use of community detention for families and
children could be considered a success and demonstrates that there is a viable
alternative to IDCs. RACS recommends that community detention programs be
significantly expanded to encompass all detainees who do not pose security
threats, with priority given to vulnerable persons.
AMES added to the consensus:
We propose that placing people in the community rather than
expanding the network through the establishment of new facilities is a much
preferred option. In addition to representing a more humane option for clients,
it is likely to be more cost effective and afford much greater flexibility to
manage varying numbers. Management of clients in community detention is also an
area that is more likely to be taken up by not for profit and community
agencies. A number of these agencies, including Red Cross as the lead agency
and others such as AMES, have existing expertise with this client group to
contribute to the program.
Support for the community detention alternative also came from refugees
and former detainees. One such example was the not-for-profit organisation
Refugees, Survivors and Ex-detainees (RISE). Their submission expressed concern
at the number of people still in detention, while still commending positive
moves toward increased use of community detention:
The current community detention system is administered by Red
Cross, which unlike SERCO is an experienced and established humanitarian
organisation. R.I.S.E welcomes the release of more asylum seekers and refugees
in the community in the last few months.
Noting the many positive views on community detention and its capacity
to enable the immigration process to run smoothly without holding people in
detention facilities any longer than necessary, the Committee also considered
the question of whether such minimal detention is likely to encourage people to
abscond. The Committee heard that this was not the case, and that in fact high
compliance rates were an added benefit of community-based as opposed to held
Community based arrangements are not only far more humane in
immigration detention but have also been shown to be extremely effective.
International research has revealed that few asylum applicants abscond when
released into community arrangements with appropriate supervision or reporting
requirements. In fact, the use of alternatives to detention encourages
compliance with immigration authorities and systems, including voluntary return
if applications are unsuccessful. Treating asylum seekers with dignity,
humanity and respect encourages compliance, whereas individuals who believe
they have been treated very poorly and have suffered depression and deep
anxiety as a result of long-term detention are less likely to cooperate—trends
certainly reflected in Australia's experience.
This view was echoed in a submission from the International Detention
Coalition, which pointed to research indicating that:
...asylum seekers and irregular migrants were found to be a
low risk to abscond if they are in a lawful process awaiting a decision on
their case in their destination country.
Similar findings were cited by the Australian Human Rights Commission,
informing the Committee that more than 90 per cent of asylum seekers comply
with their conditions of release when they are released with proper supervision
and access to facilities.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducted a
detailed analysis of compliance patterns. This analysis conclusively indicates
that people are less likely to abscond if they feel they are being treated
The Committee acknowledges considerable support for the community
detention program, and notes the praise of Chair of the Council for Immigration
Services and Status Resolution (CISSR):
I think the community detention program has been incredibly
successful. There have been very few incidents with community detention. There
are always challenges, sometimes relating to minors—in fact, there was an
incident last week in Melbourne. But I think in any program that involves
dealing with minors, whether they are young people seeking asylum or they are
young people from the Australian community, there are inevitable challenges. I
think the scope for community detention to be expanded is great. There is no
reason why it could not be extended beyond where it is being extended at the
moment. Certainly, my understanding is that that is where things have been
heading. There are challenges in locating appropriate accommodation and
housing, and there are sometimes challenges in being able to wrap the level of services
that is required around people. But, having said that, they are just
challenges; and, between the department and the non-government agencies
involved, they have been able to overcome those challenges to date. I think has
been an incredible success.
The Committee particularly notes support for the program from
organisations such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, and UNHCR.
The Committee strongly encourages the government to continue expanding the
community detention program.
Community detention or BVs for intractable
In previous chapters of this report the Committee referred to refugees
and asylum seekers in detention who are at present not able to be released into
the community or sent back to their country of origin. The reasons for this are
varied, but there are two broad categories of people in question:
Refugees unable to be released into the community due to adverse
ASIO assessments; and
Asylum seekers found not to be refugees who are stateless
The Committee is aware that people in these situations represent perhaps
the most intractable problem faced by asylum policymakers and those charged
with its implementation. These groups find themselves in prolonged or
indefinite detention, and often suffer the overwhelming adverse effect of this
on mental health.
The Committee is aware that some people in the second category would be
able to return to their country of origin were they to formally apply for a
passport from the government in question. This is something many of them choose
not to do, for various reasons. However, the Committee is aware that these
people have a way out of prolonged detention in Australia. The people in the
first category, and many from the second category who do not have the
option to return anywhere because they are stateless and cannot obtain
citizenship elsewhere, represent some of the toughest problems within our
immigration system today.
This being the case, the Committee considered whether community
detention or bridging visas could be used in these circumstances in order to
alleviate some of the harm being caused by prolonged detention while outcomes
are being determined. To this end, the Committee explored whether the current
system could accommodate intractable cases by employing monitoring systems
similar to those found in the criminal justice system. Mr Paris Aristotle once
again provided the Committee with a valuable insight:
You could attach conditions to bridging visas similar to bail
conditions, for example, if you wanted to; you could have frequent and regular
reporting requirements; you could incorporate concepts like electronic
bracelets so that you could know where people were. We have available in our
legal system the control orders that have been applied to other people—for
example, those who were transferred to Australia from Guantanamo Bay in the
past, or others that there have been concerns about. So there are mechanisms
available for dealing with people in these circumstances that, in my view,
would be infinitely better than leaving them locked up in detention centres for
long periods of time, especially where there has been a level of involvement in
the activities of an organisation like, for example, the LTTE, which controlled
all of the north of Sri Lanka, where it is very difficult to escape having some
sort of relationship with them. Being able to make a clear judgment about how
serious the risk is is quite difficult. So I am certainly in favour of
examining the utilisation of things like electronic bracelets or the use of
systems, similar to those applied using control orders, or bail conditions as
currently exist in the criminal justice system. And I think we could manage
A useful overview of conditional release approaches internationally was
provided by Gilbert and Tobin Centre for Public Law. Included in this overview
is a look at approaches to electronic monitoring employed in the United States.
Gilbert and Tobin raised a number of concerns around electronic monitoring,
including questions of legality under international law and the stigmatisation
of detainees. While these points are concerning and necessitate further
contemplation, the Committee notes that electronic monitoring in combination
with community detention is likely in principle to be feasible.
The Committee also heard that removing people from high-stress detention
environments, where they are caught up in a cycle of despair and frustration,
quite often assists them to make more rational choices about their lives and the
options available to them:
The benefits of people being processed in community based
arrangements are clearly evident in comparison to people being detained for
very long periods of time. It is more desirable but also has the potential to
yield better outcomes both in terms of processing arrangements and in people's
ability to deal with and contemplate what the next decision should be that they
have to make about their futures. This is very difficult when you are in a
superheated detention centre environment where tempers are flaring and where
group-think seems to dominate the way in which people make decisions. In
community based arrangements there is more potential to protect people's
psychological wellbeing, which assists them to make more rational decisions
about where they are in the process, and that in my view includes whether or
not they should continue to pursue a claim or whether or not they should make a
decision about returning if they have indeed been found not to need protection.
It is very difficult to see those decisions being made effectively in detention
centres, and history tells us you get better outcomes in the community.
The Committee understands why, at present, people with adverse security
assessments and non-refugees are not being released into the community. At the
same time, the Committee remains deeply concerned about spiralling mental
health problems among the detainee population, and believes all reforms aimed
at harm minimisation must be explored for everyone concerned, including those
with adverse assessments. While it is extremely encouraging to see the
government endeavouring to move increasing numbers of people through the system
as quickly as possible, those in the most intractable situations must not be
overlooked. In full acknowledgement of the complex issues involved, the Committee
believes no case should be left unaddressed if this results in prolonged
detention without charge.
The Committee is cognisant of the issues and potential risks involved
with releasing refugees with adverse security assessments or non-refugees into
the community, but believes these must be carefully weighed against the proven
human cost of holding people in detention with little or no prospect for
release. For this reason the Committee believes the bridging visa and/or
community detention programs present an avenue worth exploring.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government and the
Department of Immigration and Citizenship seek briefing on control orders in
use by the criminal justice system and explore the practicalities of employing
similar measures for refugees and asylum seekers who are in indefinite
detention or cannot be repatriated.
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