Refugee Council of Australia
Men in detention centre

Australia’s detention policies

Where are people detained?

There are more humane and cheaper ways than detaining people. In most countries, alternatives to detention are used to process refugee claims. 

Australia uses two main ‘alternatives’ to held or closed detention – ‘community detention’ and bridging visas.

Community detention

The Minister for Immigration can release a person from detention by making a ‘residence determination’. This requires a person to live in a residence determined by the Department of Immigration. This is mostly used for families, unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable groups.

The Minister’s power to make a residence determination is, like his power to grant a visa, a power that must be exercised personally and cannot be delegated. The Minister is not required to consider the exercise of this power. 

Migration Act s 197AB (Residence determination)

This is more commonly referred to as ‘community detention’, because the person lives in the community but is required to sleep at the specified place. They cannot work, and are also subject to curfews and other supervision and reporting arrangements.

Statistics on people in community detention

People who are in community detention are supported under the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) scheme. They are generally provided support by a contracted non-governmental organisation, and receive housing and essentials.

Status Resolution Support Service

Bridging visas

In October 2011, the Australian Government started to use bridging visas more often for people coming by boat. A bridging visa is a form of visa given under the Migration Act that allows a person to be given lawful status to live in the community while a visa is being processed. 

There are different kinds of bridging visas. The most commonly used for people coming by boat is the Bridging Visa E. People seeking asylum by plane can often be given other kinds of bridging visas.

People who have a bridging visa are not provided with housing. The conditions of their visa can vary, but most have permission to work and study, and have access to Medicare. They only got the right to work, however, in December 2014. Some may also be entitled to a basic living allowance under the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) scheme, although this is increasingly difficult.

With Empty Hands: our report on destitution of people seeking asylum

But won’t people seeking asylum disappear if they are released from detention?

Most countries do not use detention as the main way to deal with people claiming refugee status, and some countries rarely resort to detention at all. People rarely flee because they want to cooperate and ensure that they will not be sent back to danger. Further, treating people seeking asylum with dignity, humanity and respect encourages people to comply with the rules. 

A range of studies have shown high rates of compliance with alternatives to detention, with Australian programs showing that between 90-94% comply with the rules.

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