Alternatives to detention
Alternatives to detention for people seeking asylum are not only more humane than immigration detention, they have been found to be effective in managing risks to the community and far less costly than detention in closed facilities. Releasing people seeking asylum from detention after they have passed initial health, identity and security checks, and allowing them to live in the community while their applications are processed, greatly reduces the human and financial costs of immigration detention while also ensuring that potential risks to the community are managed effectively.
Under the Migration Act, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has a non-compellable, non-delegable public interest power (known as “residence determination”) to specify alternative detention arrangements for people in immigration detention. Placement in community detention enables people to move about in the community without needing to be accompanied or restrained by an immigration officer. Community detention is primarily used for unaccompanied minors, families and other vulnerable groups, such as those with significant physical or mental health issues.
Asylum seekers released into community detention still have some restrictions on their movement and are not permitted to work. They must live at an address specified by the the Minister for Immigration. They are also subject to curfews and other supervision and reporting arrangements. However, community detention mitigates many of the negative impacts of detention in a closed facility by allowing people to have a degree of independence and making it easier for them to access services and community support.
In October 2011, the Australian Government announced that it would begin to expand the use of bridging visas for people seeking asylum arriving without authorisation. Under the new policy, people seeking asylum in detention who had passed initial health, identity and security checks were considered for release on bridging visas which allow them to live in the community while their applications are processed.
Asylum seekers released on bridging visas are not provided with public housing, receive a basic living allowance equivalent to the 89% of Centrelink Special Benefit and must report to the Department of Immigration on a regular basis. They mostly have access to Australia’s universal health care system, Medicare.
Until December 2014, people seeking asylum who arrived in Australia by boat after 13 August 2012 and subsequently released from immigration detention facilities on Bridging Visas were not eligible to work. In December 2014, the Government decided to grant work rights to people seeking asylum in this group.
But won’t people seeking asylum abscond if they are released from detention?
Historically, the vast majority of Australia’s people seeking asylum have not been subject to detention at any point. Most people seeking asylum arrive in Australia on temporary visas and are permitted to live in the community while their applications are processed.
Asylum seekers who are allowed to live in the community while their asylum claims are processed are unlikely to abscond. People fleeing persecution have a vested interest in cooperating with the immigration authorities and systems, to ensure that they will not be sent back to a situation where their lives or freedom may be in danger. Additionally, treating people seeking asylum with dignity, humanity and respect encourages trust and compliance, while individuals who are disgruntled with the system or feel they have been treated unfairly (such as people subject to prolonged indefinite detention) are less likely to cooperate.
Research conducted by UNHCR reveals that, on average, less than 10 per cent of asylum applicants abscond when released from detention to proper supervision and facilities. In Australia, the rate of absconding from community alternative to detention has been even lower than the international average. Of the 244 people placed in community detention under the Community Care Pilot between July 2005 and September 2008, only two (less than one percent) absconded; and only one person out of a total population of 370 absconded from Immigration Residential Housing over the same period.