Refugee Council of Australia
Carving of man trapped in box

Unwelcome visitors: Challenges faced by people visiting immigration detention

Limiting the number of visitors

Every person who’s been detained there is entitled to have visitors and they need to have enough visit space for every single person entitled to those visits. At the moment, I don’t think they have that.

— A detention visitor from Northern Territory (when Wickham Point APOD was operational)

Table 1 outlines the capacity of visitor rooms in all immigration detention facilities and the number of people a visitor can see. As mentioned, while there is a link between the capacity of visitor rooms and the number of people one can visit, we heard of frequent changes to that number over a relatively short period of time.

Immigration Detention FacilityNumber of people visitors can visitReported capacity of the visitor roomNumber of people (31 May 2017)
Brisbane ITA1 (excepting family groups).
Limit of 2 visits a week
for each visitor & each
person in detention.
Up to 14 people, including 2 Serco staff.68 (almost 6 times more than the capacity)
Melbourne ITA560 people (10 tables with up to 6 people per table)119 (twice the capacity)
Maribyrnong IDC155 people107
Perth IDC1Around 5 people25
Villawood IDC4Not specified, but not sufficient to meet demand487
Yongah Hill DC2.
Up to 3 people
per visitor when whole
room is booked,
by negotiation.
20 people273 (13 times the capacity)

As outlined in table 1, the visit space in most detention facilities is not proportional to the number of people detained in those facilities. This is mainly because most of the detention facilities are not built for the current population, even facilities like Yongah Hill IDC which were specifically built to be an immigration detention centre. ( The high security compound of Villawood IDC (Blaxland compound), Maribyrnong IDC and Perth IDC historically accommodated people with higher risk ratings and those who spent time in prisons. In 2016-17 Federal Budget the Government announced it would close Blaxland compound of Villawood IDC and Maribyrnong IDC.) Most of the immigration detention facilities that are currently operational were built or designated to house people who came by boat without an extensive network of friends and families, rather than a large number of people who spent time in prison.

Recent years have seen many more people in detention who have spent a considerable amount of time in Australia and have family and friends in the community. As a result, the demand for the visitor rooms has grown greatly. According to the latest statistics provided by DIBP, as of 31 May 2017, only 26% of the detention population were people who had come by boat. This indicates that many more people with established links in the community are now detained, while the visitor space is not designed for their needs.

(To provide a simple snapshot of the current situation of the detention network, we made many assumptions. RCOA understands that not all people seeking asylum have limited community networks, this means that the demand for the visitor room can be even higher. RCOA also understands that sometimes people who are listed in the statistics as section 501 visa cancellation may have arrived in Australia years ago on a boat, so at times the differences between different detention cohorts are blurred. )

The limited capacity of the visitor rooms is more pronounced in facilities such as Yongah Hill IDC, which has a much smaller visitor room to begin with. The visitor room in Yongah Hill IDC can only provide space for 20 people (visitors and people in detention combined). As of 31 May 2017, this facility held 273 people (only 38% of them boat arrivals).

RCOA was advised by visitors that, given immediate family members of people in detention are often prioritised, people seeking asylum who have limited connections in the community lose out. While we value the importance of family visits, this issue points to infrastructure challenges that often make the visits much more difficult.

Despite all these challenges, RCOA welcomes the reports from community organisations about their successful advocacy with local detention providers in Western Australia which has enabled them to book out the entire visitor room once a month and visit those with limited contacts in the community.

The management of Melbourne ITA have cited security reasons for limiting the number of visitors in the visit room as well as the number of people each visitor can visit. The damaging impacts of this policy is well presented in the reports of one of the long-term visitors. She told RCOA that she used to visit twelve people in each visit until recently. She can now only visit 5 people. This has seriously limited her capacity to continue her role as a focal point for people to refer to and raise issues with, and as someone who works to connect people with different services and provide them with the necessary resources.

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