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The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has today released new research which reveals the increasing difficulties for visitors in gaining access to onshore immigration detention facilities. The report, Unwelcome Visitors: Challenges Faced by People Visiting Immigration Detention, is based on national consultations with regular visitors to onshore detention centres and people who have been detained, and outlines a worrying securitisation which is threatening a crucial lifeline for many.

 Paul Power, RCOA CEO, stated that the importance of detention visitors should not be underestimated. “Every day, ordinary Australians visit people detained in Australia’s onshore immigration detention facilities. This is an important and often under-appreciated role. These visitors provide emotional support to people in detention, advocate on their behalf and fill in the gaps that exist in provision of services and information in immigration detention facilities.

“This research has found that the Government is making it increasingly difficult for these committed community volunteers to visit detention.  This is extremely worrying as it threatens to isolate those detained even further, with serious consequences for their mental health.”

Participants in the research shared stories of being denied entry for spurious reasons, including elderly visitors who were wrongly accused of positive drug tests.  The report states: “on several occasions, elderly Australians, including nuns, have been refused entry for allegedly testing positive to cocaine and other drugs. These denials of access do not only affect visitors. They also mean people in detention are denied the opportunity to see their family and friends”.

The report examines the significant and increasing impact of these barriers to both detention visitors and the people who are detained, and puts forward a number of recommendations to address these issues. These recommendations include: a recognition of the importance of, and engagement with, detention visitors on the part of DIBP and ABF; a revision of the existing rules to better reflect and mitigate risk; and the use of rules which are both consistent and public.

“In a nutshell, we are recommending that the role of community visitors to detention be recognised and supported, that rules be consistent and publicly available, that security be appropriate rather than overbearing and that people’s detention be subject to independent review,” Mr Power said.

The report will be officially launched at the Sydney offices of Amnesty International today at 5.30pm, where a number of people affected will speak further to this important issue.

For media enquiries or to attend the launch, please contact Laura Stacey on 0488 035 535.