Every day, ordinary Australians visit people detained in Australia’s onshore immigration detention facilities. This is an important and often under-appreciated role. These visitors provide emotional support to people in detention, advocate on their behalf and fill in the gaps that exist in provision of services and information in immigration detention facilities.
It is not easy to visit people in immigration detention, to hear their stories and to speak up for those who are the victims of Australia’s current punitive approach to people seeking asylum. Visiting immigration detention facilities takes time, energy and commitment, and often has a significant impact on the wellbeing of visitors. Yet, all too often, we hear some politicians and media outlets falsely blaming these visitors and advocates for encouraging people to harm themselves or to disobey rules.
Over the past year, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has increasingly heard from these visitors that security conditions in immigration detention facilities are being intensified and it is now more difficult to visit people in immigration detention. Correspondingly, people in immigration detention are becoming increasingly isolated from the wider community, with negative impacts on their mental and physical wellbeing.
These concerns led us to conduct a national study to explore these issues further. This report is the result of our extensive research and consultations with detention visitors and people previously held in detention. It explores the challenges faced by people when trying to access detention facilities, including:
- constantly changing rules and their inconsistent application
- difficulties in arranging a visit, including searches and drug tests
- lack of adequate space in visitor rooms in some facilities
- arbitrary rules and intensified security conditions that make visits less friendly, and
- specific challenges faced by religious visitors.
This report identifies the impacts of those difficulties on both visitors and people detained and puts forward a number of recommendations to address those challenges.
This report showcases the spirit of volunteerism in Australia, presenting the accounts of many volunteers who continue visiting detention facilities despite difficulties, so they can bring people hope and get their voices and concerns heard.
People who visit immigration detention often provide the only public information about what is happening in our immigration detention facilities. This is because Australia does not have an official national body that publicly and regularly reports on visits to immigration detention facilities.
The Refugee Council of Australia welcomes the Australian Government’s commitment to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) by the end of 201 We hope that this will result in greater scrutiny of immigration detention and ultimately better treatment of those in detention.
This report was made possible by Alicia Rodriguez and Moones Mansoubi, RCOA’s detention research volunteers, who generously dedicated over 300 hours of their time conducting interviews, collating information and drafting the report. RCOA thanks them for their dedication and time. We also thank Kelly Walsh who helped us with the design of this report.