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The Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network is presently calling for submissions.  Closing date 12 August 2011.

What you write is completely up to you here’s some ideas to help you through the broad terms of reference:

1(a) Any reforms needed to the current immigration detention network in Australia

  • End the indefinite nature of detention. We say health, security and identity checks can be done within 30 days and any detention after this period should be decided by independent judicial review.
  • Ensure children and their families are removed from detention as promptly as practicable.
  • End remote detention. If people are moved through centres much quicker there will not be a need for more and more centres. Access to community groups, support and appropriate care is far more likely in and around our capital cities.

1(g) The impact, effectiveness and cost of mandatory detention

  • Mental health impacts of detention are well documented. 5 suicides in around 6 months, self harm, hunger strikes, people on suicide watch, isolation - none of this is effective.
  • The Minister himself has said that detention is a management tool not a deterrent. (Chris Bowen, The Age 10 Feb 2011)
  • In the 2011-12 budget $800 million has been allocated to detention costs, a tripling in just two years.

1(l) compliance with the Government’s immigration detention values

  • Have a read of the detention values policy issued in 2008 -  not lengthy and essentially a good document. We advocate that this policy (with amendments as outlined in 1(a) above) be enshrined into law and that all associated staff be trained as per this policy.
  • To date this policy has not been put into practice, detention is not a last resort and it is not used for the shortest practicable time.
  • This is how Minister Evans explained the new policy at the time

Terms of ref and all other info  You can submit online, email or post.

If you submit, let us know on twitter @OzRefugeeCounc or facebook . But don’t forget, you can’t make your sub public until it goes up on the APH website.


June 2011

Here's our latest bulletin, full of info and ideas for action

Refugee Week 2011

With nearly 200 events nationwide the week was a celebration of communities, of culture, of freedom from fear. A big thanks to everyone who made the week a success. We heard from former refugees, learnt from them and have a few on board as Ambassadors.

Despite the many successes we had to note in refugee week, the huge disparities that exist in Australia's policies towards vulnerable people. In a statement endorsed by many other organisations, we presented the Government with a policy proposal for change. One that is humane, fiscally responsible and considers genuine risk. At the time of writing 274 people remain in limbo, detained on Christmas Island awaiting the 'Malaysia deal' outcome. This fact is abhorrent, Australia has a number of international obligations meaning we should not detain people arbitrarily. These men, women and children are not having their claims processed and are not being removed anywhere because there in no deal.

UNHCR released their latest asylum stats which unsurprisingly show that in 2010 Australia received only 1% of the world's total asylum applications. Hardly a crisis or cause for the outrage that we see from our politicians and media.

May 2011

Malaysia deal should not go ahead

We condemn the Government's proposed 'Malaysia deal'. On 8 May we released a statement and maintain opposition to Australia shifting any of its responsibilities to asylum seekers. Malaysia has a shocking record of treatment towards asylum seekers and even UNHCR recognised refugees.

March 2011

How many deaths will it take?

March 28th saw the fifth suicide in detention in just over six months. Villawood, Scherger and Curtin detention centres have all mourned recent losses of men who have taken their own lives. Issues such as delays in processing, fear of being returned home, not understanding why they are being held indefinitely, hopelessness are reportedly behind these tragic events. Such sadness is avoidable and we have seen many more cases of attempted suicide, self harm, hunger strikes and recent protests where people are all trying to express similar despair and frustration. The system is not working, change must occur. Please join us in telling Minister Bowen that enough is enough.


Bali Process

The Bali Process is underway for 2011 and Australia will be joined by Ministers and senior advisers from across the region in addressing issues such as the regional protection of refugees and asylum seekers. RCOA has urged Australia to take a responsible and leading role in these meetings to develop sustainable and humane solutions. The first step of this must be domestic changes in Australia - our current failed system of indefinite, remote detention is not the mark of a cooperative regional partner.


Christmas Island in chaos

On 15 March we issued a press release expressing shock that tear gas was being used against asylum seekers staging a peaceful protest at the North West Point detention centre on Christmas Island. The next morning things became even more unbelievable as we learned that beanbag bullets fired from a 12 guage shotgun had been fired at asylum seekers. The protests lasted around six days and resulted in the burning of the tents that people had been forced to sleep in for around twelve months. The Australian Federal Police took control of the centre, removing Serco and DIAC staff. At the end of March, this is still the case. Hundreds of people have been transferred off the island, the majority, not in to community alternatives but to now increasingly crowded mainland detention centres. Protests came after months of overcrowding, the centre with a capacity for 800 people at complete maximum had been housing 1,800. Added to this were frustrations over lengthy delays in processing, a lack of information to detainees and the fact that 900 recognised refugees were still being detained indefinitely on the Island. Boats arriving at the time of the protests were diverted to Ashmore Reef (an excised territory) were people disembarked before being taken to Broome and other locations where they will be processed as though they were actually on Christmas Island. The whole system is in chaos and the government appears to be expending all resources necessary to maintain and even grow this failed system of two process and remote, indefinite detention.

Here's a timeline we put together outlining the protests of March 2011 on Christmas Island.


Government thinks more detention centres is the answer

The Government has announced that a 1,500 capacity detetntion centre is to be built in Wickham Point (35km from Darwin) and the capacity of Darwin Airport Lodge is to be doubled with new construction works. All this comes without any annoucements about faster processing, options to end indefinite detention or any other humane approach. RCOA spoke against the Government's plans.


A matter of security

From Senate Estimates last month we heard that 900 people deemed to be refugees were still languishing in detention awaiting ASIO clearances (see 21/02/2011 transcript around page 96). These people have no information s to when or if they will be released, what stage they are up to in the process, how the process even works and the ASIO Act does not even specify that they must be detained, that is DIAC decision. Coincidentally, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security has just had a public submission process open for their review into Administration and expenditure of Australian Secuirty Agencies. RCOA made a submission outlining our concerns over present operations and impacts they had on the lives of vulnerable people.


February 2011

Protection of the vulnerable could be legislated for

The Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011 was today introduced to Parliament. Long overdue; if passed, the legislation would see Australia meet its international obligations and protect those facing death, torture or persecution without relying solely on the decision of the days' Immigration Minister. We hope that the Bill sees a prompt and unobstructed passage through Parliament. Here is the RCOA response.

Seena's story

Nine year old Seena was orphaned on 15 December 2010 when the boat he and his parents were travelling on to seek asylum hit rocks off Christmas Island. What has ensued in recent weeks has been another low point in asylum issues for Australia. Amid public debate over taxpayer expenses for funerals Seena was flown from detention on Christmas Island to be with his Sydney based uncle to farwell his father. Despite calls from the Refugee Council of Australia and many others for Seena and the other survivors of the boat tragedy to remain in Sydney and not be returned to overcrowded detention in remote Christmas Island - Minister Bowen announced that all were to be flown back to Christmas Island.

We have just learned that Seena is now being permitted to live with his family in Sydney. This is a late but welcome response by the Immigration Minister. However, Seena and the other survivors are now on their way back to Christmas Island, Seena will stay there about one week and then make the long series of flights back to Sydney. We are asking - is this the path of most compassion and least trauma?


December 2010

Thailand arrests refugees and asylum seekers

86 asylum seekers and recognised refugees of Pakistani origin who had official UNHCR documents were arrested by Thai authorities in their Bangkok homes. These arrests are a stark reminder of the situation facing refugees and asylum seekers in our region and a reminder of why the Australian Government must work in cooperation with their regional counterparts. Safety is clearly not being found in the countries asylum seekers and refugees are travelling through and so they continue their journey in search of this safety. RCOA released a statement on the arrests, and signed a joint statement organised by APRRN - we are calling for the release of these men, women and children.

Christmas Island tragedy

Our thoughts are with all of those impacted by the tragedy on Christmas Island on December 15. The incident highlights the desperate situation facing asylum seekers and the risks they take in order to seek safety. We are reminded of the urgency in addressing this situation across our region where asylum seekers and recognised refugees are not receiving adequate protection. More

The personal impact of detention

In recent months there have been 3 suicides at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, only days ago we received a report of an attempted suicide at Darwin's immigration facility. The latter part of 2010 has seen lip sewing protests at Christmas Island, hunger strikes at Villawood, unrest at Maribyrnong Centre and an unknown number of self-harm and other incidents across remote and urban detention centres. People are being held for lengthy periods not knowing when they will receive an outcome on their asylum claims. Most of our detention centres are at or over capacity and there is an urgent need for a review of Australia's present approach to detention.

No Afghan returns without safety measures

There have been reports that the Australian and Afghan Governments are close to signing an agreement relating to the return of Afghan people who are not successful in seeking asylum in Australia. We are talking about a volatile, unsafe country and possibly about people who have not lived in Afghanistan for many years and who may not be able to return to the village, city or region they know. This is a complex issue that needs clarity, monitoring and assurances of safety. Here's the Refugee Council of Australia statement on the issue.



High Court ruling on the double system of seeking asylum

Australia has been imposing a system of double standards - one set of rules for those who arrive in Australia by plane and seek asylum and another for those who arrive by boat. Two Sri Lankan asylum seekers were in the latter category and had been detained on Christmas Island . The two men claim to have been denied procedural fairness - their protection claims were refused and they had no way of seeking a review of this decision. Had they arrived by plane, they would have been entitled to access the usual Australian review processes. Their matter went to the High Court who unanimously ruled that the full Migration Act and the decisions of Australian courts must apply to any person who has applied to Australia for asylum. This decision means that if there has been an error in legal reasoning or if procedural fairness has been denied the applicant has access to judicial review whether they arrived by plane, boat or magic carpet. For those into reading High Court judgements, here it is in full.
And here is the Refugee Council of Australia's statement on the day of the ruling.



Joint statement on regional protection framework

Twenty-one major Australian refugee support organisations and aid agencies have joined forces to call on the Australian Government and Opposition to focus on international cooperation on refugee protection, warning that there is no quick fix to the complex causes of asylum seeker movements. The statement emphasises that asylum issues “cannot be resolved by any country acting unilaterally” and outlines a set of minimum standards to which Australia’s approach to regional asylum issues must adhere, including compliance with all international human rights standards and rejection of approaches which involve removal of asylum seekers from Australian territory for processing in a third country or detention of refugees in third countries. The statement was coordinated by the Refugee Council and can be read here.

Refugee policy in the 2010 election campaign: What the major parties are saying

With refugee policy playing such a prominent role in the debate leading up to Australian Federal election on 21 August 2010, RCOA has compiled a summary of the refugee policy platforms being promoted by the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal-National Coalition and the Greens. The summary can be downloaded here.



Do refugees receive more than aged pensioners? - Two hoax e-mails which claim that refugees receive more money from Centrelink than age pensioners are being widely circulated. Both e-mails are blatantly inaccurate and intended to create resentment towards refugees and fuel disharmony. To find out the truth, click here.


Australian Government introduces new people smuggling legislation

The Australian Government has introduced new legislation to “strengthen the Commonwealth’s anti-people smuggling legislative framework”. The Anti People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2010 will, among other things, establish a new offence of providing material support or resources towards a people smuggling venture and introduce tougher penalties for multiple offences and for actions which involve “exploitation or danger of death or serious harm”.