Amnesty slams Australian refugee centres

2012-02-23 11:00

Sydney - Rights group Amnesty International on Thursday called for the closure of Australia's remote and isolated refugee detention centres where it said suicide and self-harm were a "fact of life".

Amnesty said Australia should limit the locking up of asylum-seekers arriving by boat to 30 days and expedite the release of those already in detention into the community, particularly families and minors.

The recommendations follow 11 days of fact-finding visits to detainees held under Australia's long-standing mandatory detention policy for boatpeople in sometimes far-flung compounds on islands and in the desert.

"After speaking with countless asylum-seekers whose mental health has been destroyed by this system, it is morally reprehensible that this policy has continued for so long," said Graham Thom, Amnesty's refugee spokesperson.

"Across every facility we visited what was evident was the stress caused by prolonged detention, and the uncertainty which continues to traumatise innocent people who are still waiting behind fences."

Thom said there was a "striking contrast" between those who had only been held for a few months and those who had spent more than three years in immigration detention waiting for their asylum claims to be resolved.

Failed policy

The use of sleeping tablets was widespread and Amnesty's interim report said "self-harm and attempted suicides were talked about as a fact of life" among those who had been held for long periods.

"The indefinite and prolonged detention of asylum-seekers in Australia is a failed policy that contravenes human rights standards," the report said.

Amnesty visited nine major detention sites last month across Australia's major cities and at Curtin in the remote desert, and Christmas Island, thousands of kilometres offshore.

It interviewed hundreds of inmates, staff and other officials, and said there were "systemic issues", including confusion about detainees' rights and legal status which led to generalised anxiety and depression.

"Many asylum-seekers interviewed reported feeling like they needed medication to make it through each day," Amnesty said.

Amnesty called for remote and isolated centres to be shut down as soon as possible and the implementation of a 30-day limit on detention "so that all asylum-seekers are moved into the community" once initial checks are done.

Improved conditions

"Significant" improvements needed to be made to ensure detainees remained connected to the outside world, and as many as practicable should be released into the community.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government "does want to see fewer people in detention, and we believe that they should remain in detention for as little time as possible".

About 3 600 children, families and vulnerable people had been moved out of detention in the past 16 months, he added.

"Amnesty International has acknowledged markedly improved conditions during recent visits to Australia's detention centres," Bowen's spokesperson said.

"The government is always working to improve the conditions of detention and we continue to move people into community-based arrangements wherever possible."

Read more on:    ai  |  australia  |  refugees
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