People in Australian immigration detention
Over the past two years there has been an increase in the number of people entering immigration detention whose visa has been cancelled on character grounds. In June 2015, the percentage of people in immigration detention because their visa had been cancelled on character grounds was 23, which had increased to 31 per cent by June 2016. Over the same period, the percentage of illegal maritime arrivals in immigration detention decreased from 61 in June 2015 to 32 per cent in June 2016. See
Statistics for the current number of detainees in immigration detention. The remainder of the population is made up of illegal foreign fishers, unauthorised seaport and airport arrivals and people who have overstayed their visa conditions.
The majority of detainees whose visa has been cancelled on character grounds have committed a serious crime. This presents challenges for the management of the Australian immigration detention network.
The Department undertakes regular reviews of all people placed in immigration detention.
The Department has a statutory obligation to report to the Commonwealth Ombudsman about a person who has been in immigration detention for a cumulative period of two or more years—and then every six months. The Department must provide the Commonwealth Ombudsman with a report about the circumstances, their health and the progress of their case.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman assesses the Department’s report and may make recommendations about the person. The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s recommendations focus on things that may need attention such as following up on health issues, progress of a visa application or moving a detainee to a different facility or into the community for family or support reasons.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s assessment reports are tabled in Parliament by the Minister, and the Department acts on all recommendations.
Types of detention facilities
Australian immigration detention consists of Immigration Detention Centres (IDC) and Alternative Places of Detention (APOD), including Immigration Residential Housing (IRH) and Immigration Transit Accommodation (ITA). Unaccompanied children, families with children and other vulnerable people may be placed in community placement instead of an immigration detention facility.
People who may be placed in an immigration detention facility include:
- a person who is refused entry to Australia at an air or seaport
- a person who overstays their visa
- a person who has breached their visa conditions and had their visa cancelled
- an irregular maritime arrival
- a person whose visa has been cancelled on character grounds
- a person found fishing illegally.
When determining where to place a detainee, the Department takes into account the detainee’s background, their personal circumstances and best interests, the best interests of other detainees, as well as operational and security factors.
In immigration detention facilities, teams of ABF officers and departmental Status Resolution Officers work closely together to ensure the safety and security of detainees and the Australian community, while a detainee’s immigration status is resolved. Status Resolution Officers identify barriers to resolution and work with detainees and others including the ABF to achieve this outcome, consistent with legislation and government policy. ABF officers focus on maintaining the good order of facilities and undertake activities to facilitate removals. These complimentary functions work collaboratively towards an immigration outcome.
Immigration detention centres (IDC)
- IDCs usually accommodate people who are assessed as a security or character risk, or other reasons such as unconfirmed identity, health requirements, or there is no other facility available.
- There are five IDCs—Perth, Villawood, Yongah Hill, Maribyrnong and North West Point on Christmas Island.
Alternative places of detention (APOD)
- An APOD is a place of immigration detention—other than an IDC or places identified as part of a residence determination (also known as ‘community placement’).
- APODs are used to meet the specific needs of detainees that cannot be adequately catered for in an IDC.
- APODs include:
- Immigration Residential Housing (IRH) which is indistinguishable from other housing in the general community, and provides detainees with an increased amount of independence to access community facilities under supervision.
- Immigration Transit Accommodation (ITA) which provides semi-independent living in hostel-style accommodation. Individuals are able to attend appointments in the community under supervision.
- Places in the broader community which can be designated as places of immigration detention, such as leased private housing, hotels and motels, and hospitals including mental health facilities.
The Minister can decide that a person can live in the community by making a
residence determination—otherwise known as
Community placement allows a person assessed as low risk, to live in the community rather than a detention facility, while their immigration status is being resolved. A person in community placement can move about freely and receive visitors in their home, if they wish. However, there are some restrictions that apply to them. The
residence determination will specify the address at which the person must live.
A person in community placement is supported by the Department’s
Status Resolution Support Services programme. Support may include:
- access to housing
- case management
- a living allowance to meet living costs
- education and English language classes
- health care including mental health and torture and trauma counselling.
A person living in community placement must adhere to certain conditions, including:
- abiding by Australian laws and regulations
- meeting their reporting requirements
- living at the required address—however they may stay short term at another location if approved
- not undertaking work which would normally receive an income.
Statistics for the number of detainees in each immigration detention facility.
Safeguarding vulnerable people
The Department takes seriously the care and wellbeing of vulnerable people in immigration detention. Any allegation of criminal behaviour is referred to the police. We recognise that some detainees may be more vulnerable than others such as people who are frail, elderly, minors, people who have complex health needs including mental health or where they have a history of torture, trauma or have been subject to people trafficking or domestic or family violence.
The Department routinely uses the community placement programme for unaccompanied minors, families with children and other vulnerable people.
Any allegations of sexual abuse, child abuse or other criminal act against a person made to the Department is responded to, and reported consistent with state and territory legislation. The Department works with the investigating agency by providing the necessary information to ensure effective resolution and closure. All incidents are managed in a timely and effective way, ensuring the appropriate support is provided.
People under the age of 18, wherever possible, are not held in immigration detention facilities. However, from time to time, they may temporarily transit through an immigration detention facility. This could be when:
- they arrive in Australia without a valid visa
- they have not been granted a visa and they are in the final stages of being removed from Australia
- their visa has been cancelled (for example on character grounds).
Child Safeguarding Framework guides the work of departmental staff and service providers who interact directly with children or have a role to play in child safety and wellbeing.
When a minor transits through an immigration detention facility or is in community placement, the Department observes the following principles.
- We share a responsibility to protect children and to ensure that in all decisions about children their best interests are a primary consideration.
- The Department promotes a strong, open and proactive culture that encourages awareness of child protection and wellbeing and does not tolerate child abuse.
- Minors and their families are included in decision-making, where possible.
- The Department and its service providers collaborate to manage the protection and wellbeing of minors.
- All minors and their families are made aware of safe and accessible mechanisms to report any complaints, concerns or allegations of child abuse.
- The welfare of a minor who has been or is alleged to have been abused is a primary consideration of the Department’s decision-makers.
Any allegation of child abuse made to the Department is responded to and reported consistently with state and territory legislation, and the Department works with the relevant authority to ensure they have access to the necessary information to effect resolution and closure.
The Department requires Serco, International Health and Medical Services and departmental staff to report instances of serious misconduct, corruption and criminal activity which include allegations of child abuse. All incidents are managed in a timely and effective way, ensuring appropriate support is provided.
The Department follows through with the relevant authority about all investigations about the mistreatment of children, to ensure closure.
Detainees in an immigration detention facility are provided with a range of services.
Detainees have access to landline telephones, mail and computers linked to the internet.
Cultural, recreational and sporting activities
Detainees may be offered cultural and lifestyle classes, sporting activities and external excursions. Art and craft supplies and sporting equipment are provided.
Detainees have access to self-education resources and equipment such as computers and the internet, CDs and videos, library services and a range of books, magazines, newspapers and other reading material that are available in multiple languages.
Detainees can also attend English language classes.
In-line with state and territory government legal requirements, all school-aged children in APODs and community placement are required to enrol in and attend school.
Nutritious, culturally appropriate meals are provided three times a day, and the menu changes every 28 days. Snacks and drinks are available between meals. Detainees can make suggestions about the menu through the detainee consultative committee.
Celebratory meals are prepared for cultural and religious festivals and detainees with specific dietary, medical or cultural needs are catered for.
Health services are provided through on-site primary and mental health clinics—between 9 am and 5 pm, Monday to Friday with referral to allied and specialist health providers as required. Acute care is provided by hospitals.
Outside clinic hours, health advisory services can be contacted by a detention facility staff member, which may include video-conferencing with a registered nurse.
Mental health care is also provided. On-site general practitioners, mental health nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists are engaged. Any person disclosing or displaying symptoms of a history of torture or trauma is referred to a specialist service for further assessment, case management and counselling.
Individual allowance programme
Detainees can earn points through the individual allowance programme to buy things like phone cards, newspapers, personal items, recreation items and snacks, from outlets in the facility. Detainees receive minimum points each week which can be supplemented through participating in programmes and activities.
Detainees are free to practise their religion, and are provided with areas for prayer and worship. Religious liaison officers organise services for major faiths. Detainees can also access religious books and material, activities, celebrations and feasts. Excursions to places of worship may also be provided.
Detainees arrive in immigration detention with property and personal items. These items are screened and recorded. Where an item is determined not to be a security risk they are returned to the detainee or held in trust.
The Department manages a detainee’s property respectfully, safely and securely.
Visiting an immigration detention facility
A person may be permitted to visit an immigration detention facility if they are:
- an official visitor, including oversight bodies
- the legal representative of a detainee
- migration agent of a detainee
- a health professional
- a consular official
- a family member or friend
- a religious representative
- a volunteer or a community group.
For further information, refer to
Visiting an immigration detention facility.