Three recent suicides in just over six months at immigration detention facilities in Sydney and in Western Australia are yet another painful illustration of the human toll that prolonged immigration detention has caused people in Australia, including children and people seeking asylum. Numerous independent reports over many years have documented shocking levels of mental health problems, cases of self-harm, hunger strikes, deaths and mistreatment in detention.
While the number of people in onshore immigration detention has decreased in recent years, visitors, organisations and people formerly detained all describe conditions that have grown increasingly harsh. In parallel, the rules and regulations pertaining to visiting people in detention have also been widely criticised as opaque, constantly changing and overly restrictive.
In 2017, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) documented some of the challenges faced by visitors to immigration detention facilities, including arbitrary and inconsistently applied rules, invasive searches and drug tests, and other intensified security conditions that made visits less sociable. Information provided to Jesuit Social Services by regular visitors to immigration detention centres in Melbourne, Sydney and Western Australia suggests that little has changed since RCOA’s report. In some respects, the situation is getting worse.
In a system where people feel forgotten, where they are desperate enough to forgo food, to self-harm, and worse, the important role of visitors to detention should not be overlooked. Unnecessary restrictions on visits that may deter or inhibit people providing valuable friendship and support to those detained across the country should be opposed.
Drawing on the voices of visitors, this brief sets out key facts on the current situation in onshore immigration detention in Australia; the conditions and impacts of prolonged detention; the important role of visitors and the nature of restrictive rules and regulations on visiting detention centres.