The Australian Human Rights Commission has recommended an end to mandatory detention and offshore processing on Christmas Island.
The recommendation was contained in the Commission's 2010 Christmas Island immigration detention report, released today (29 October), in which Commission president and Human Rights Commissioner Catherine Branson QC repeated the long-held view that detaining asylum seekers in remote locations is not appropriate.
"The Commission's concerns about Christmas Island have been compounded this year by the significant increase in the number of people in detention on the island which has led to overcrowding and deteriorated conditions," Branson said.
"There are around 2500 people in immigration detention on Christmas Island, including families with children and unaccompanied minors. Many people have been detained for months, and some for a year or more.
"We have real concerns about this. It is well known that detaining people for long and indefinite periods can have serious impacts on their mental health. It is even more concerning when people are detained in remote locations like Christmas Island where it is difficult to make sure they have adequate access to mental health services and torture and trauma counselling."
Branson also acknowledged the significant efforts of staff from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, who she said were doing their best in challenging circumstances, and welcomed the recent announcement by the Federal Government that it would stop using tent accommodation on Christmas Island.
She also welcomed the government's decision to move some families and unaccompanied minors out of detention facilities and into community-based accommodation, and added that the initiative should be reinforced by making changes to the Migration Act to ensure that in future, children would only be detained if it were truly a measure of last resort.
Branson also welcomed yesterday's introduction by the Greens of a Bill which aims to ensure that children will not be held in immigration detention facilities and said that ultimately, the current system which subjects people to mandatory detention for indefinite periods must be reconsidered.
"The Australian Human Rights Commission has called for many years for an end to the mandatory detention system. We encourage the Australian Government to implement the risk-based approach to detention it announced in 2008," Branson said.
"People should only be held in immigration detention if there is a risk that justifies detaining them. If no such risk exists they should be allowed to reside in community-based alternatives to detention while their refugee claims are assessed.
"It is important to remember that asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants ... All people have a fundamental human right to seek asylum from persecution."
The report is available on the Commission's website at www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/immigration/idc2010_christmas_island.html