Refugee Council of Australia
Men in detention centre

Australia’s detention policies

Indefinite and prolonged

There is no maximum time limit for detaining a person in Australia under immigration laws. This means that, under Australian law, a person could be detained even for life, unless the Australian Government decides to grant them a visa, or they agree to leave the country.

Migration Act s 196 (Duration of detention)

In some cases, a person might even agree to leave the country, but cannot be returned. For example, a country may not accept that the person is a citizen, or in the case of stateless people from Palestine, it may not be possible to return a person. Even in these cases, the High Court has held that the law means that this person must be detained.

The Minister can, but does not have to, release a person in this situation. This has resulted in many people remaining in detention for very long periods, some for several years. In a recent case, the High Court ruled against a detainee who had been held for over 9 years.

In recent years, the length of detention has been increasing. Since 2014, there has been a marked increase in the average length of detention, with it reaching over 545 days in 2020.

Length of detention

The lack of a time limit also creates uncertainty about their future, which causes serious stress and anxiety.

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