March 31, 2012
for video please click hereImmigration Minister Chris Bowen says the Government will aim to ensure that asylum seekers spend no more than 90 days in detention, but has stopped short of making any promises.
A Parliamentary Committee yesterday recommended the 90-day limit for detainees in Australian centres, and says asylum seekers who pass initial health, character and security checks should immediately get a bridging visa or be moved to community detention.
Mr Bowen says the Government will aim for the time limit, but it is not always possible to process asylum seekers quickly.
He told Lateline that the Immigration Department has become more efficient, but there are “special cases” where asylum seekers cannot be identified.
“We do aim to process people as quickly as possible, hence all the reforms that we’ve put in place that have seen the number of people in detention fall despite a very big surge in boat arrivals at the end of last year, in the last few months of last year,” he said.
” There are people becoming more and more mentally ill, who are self-harming, who are attempting suicide on a regular basis, so yes, this is an urgent situation.”Rohan Thwaites, refugee advocate
“We’ve still seen a substantial reduction in the number of people held in detention as a result of the reforms that we have introduced.”
Refugee advocates are supporting the parliamentary inquiry’s recommendation of a time limit, but Refugee Council chief executive Paul Power says he would like to see the 90-day cap even lower.
“Our organisation has been advocating for a 30-day time limit to detention – the reason being, that within 30 days, the vast majority of asylum seekers who arrive by boat can have the identity, security and health checks completed,” he said.
The parliamentary inquiry, which made more than 30 recommendations, has also called for the Immigration Minister to be stripped of their role as guardian of unaccompanied children in detention.
It says the move is needed to remove the perceived conflict of interest that exists in having the same person responsible for detaining asylum seekers.
The committee’s chairman, Labor’s Daryl Melham, who is not a spokesman for the Government, said a 90-day detention limit should be set where possible.
“The committee’s fundamental conclusion is that asylum seekers should reside in held detention for as little time as is practicable,” he said.
“The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that prolonged detention exacts a heavy toll on people, and most particularly on their mental health and wellbeing.
“While academics and psychologists tell us that mental health begins to erode after three months in detention, there are people with adverse security assessments in Australia’s immigration system who have been detained for well over two years.”
The report recommends an international medical representative be present at detention facilities 24 hours a day and calls for an independent review of the appropriate qualifications for detention centre staff.
The committee also wants spy agency ASIO to come under much greater scrutiny, including periodic reviews of adverse ASIO findings.
They also recommended laws be amended to allow for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review ASIO’s security assessments of asylum seekers.
The majority of the report was supported by Labor and Greens members of the committee, along with independent MP Rob Oakeshott.
But the Coalition has supported only 16 of the 31 recommendations and has issued a dissenting report.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says problems in detention centres have increased because of the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia.
“Our detention network collapsed because simply too many people turned up on too many boats as a result of Labor’s border protection failures,” he said.
Mr Morrison says the committee was set up after immigration detention riots last year, but he does not think it has focused enough on that aspect of the detention system.
“I’ve focused very heavily on the riots in my statements today because they have not been focused on, I believe, in the majority report made public today,” he said.
“The Australian people particularly wanted answers as to how and why this happened, so firstly it was because of the Government’s decision to abolish the border protection regime of the Howard government.”