The Refugee Council of Australia made a submission to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. The submission focused on the experiences of people with disability in immigration detention and the main issues and concerns they face. RCOA believes the experiences of people with disability in immigration detention have not been adequately explored so far and hopes the Royal Commission pays particular attention to this group.
For this submission, we focused on closed detention facilities. They include onshore immigration detention facilities (Immigration Detention Centres (IDC), Immigration Transit Accommodation (ITA) and Alternative Places of Detention (APOD)) and offshore processing centres in Nauru and Manus Island. We did not focus on the experiences of people with disability in residence determination arrangements (community detention). We aimed to present the experiences of a diverse range of people in closed detention: men and women, children, young people, refugees, people seeking asylum, and people whose visas have been cancelled.
To better understand the reality of the situation in immigration detention for people with disability, RCOA sought to speak to people with disability who experienced onshore and/or offshore detention. As our access to this group proved to be limited, we also spoke to a number of people who had clients or friends with disability in detention. Further, we analysed and utilised a range of publicly available information and case studies.
Some of the issues of concern we highlighted in this submission need to be reviewed urgently because of their significantly adverse impacts on people with disability. They include current detention practices like the use of restraints. As the final reporting date for this Royal Commission has been extended to 29 September 2023, we hope that the Royal Commission will publish an interim report focusing on the experiences of people with disability in detention and highlight some of the most pressing issues.
We made the following recommendations:
Recommendation 1 Interim report on people in detention with disability
RCOA recommends that the Royal Commission publish an interim report focusing on the experiences of people with disability in immigration detention (or other places where people are deprived of their liberty) and highlight some of the most pressing issues.
Recommendation 2 Limit the detention of people with disability
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government limit the detention of people with disability to the measure of absolute last resort and place this group in community alternatives to closed detention.
Recommendation 3 Provide robust and targeted data
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government publish monthly or quarterly data on the number of people with disability in onshore immigration detention and offshore processing facilities (in Nauru and PNG). The statistics should also be disaggregated by the type of disability, the detention facility where people with disability are held and the length of time they are detained.
Recommendation 4 Properly identify disability amongst the detention population
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government ensures that the identification of disability is not limited to the initial screening of the person in detention and occurs at regular intervals during the person’s life in detention and is also inclusive of all types of disability.
Recommendation 5 Consider alternatives to closed detention for people with character concerns who face indefinite detention
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government consider alternatives to closed detention for people who fail to pass the character test and face indefinite detention. RCOA believes most people in this group can be managed appropriately in a less restricted form of detention with proper reporting and supervision. Those who cannot be placed in the community should not be placed in remote detention centres like Yongah Hill IDC or North West Point IDC.
Recommendation 6 Ensure accessibility of detention facilities
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government ensure that all compounds of immigration detention facilities are safe and accessible, with a design and layout that support the needs of people in detention with disability. Requests made by people in detention for accessibility aids need to be addressed promptly.
Recommendation 7 Address overcrowding and lack of privacy
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government consider that people with disability or people subject to long-term detention may need access to private rooms and facilities and consider this in calculating the maximum capacity of each detention facility.
Recommendation 8 Refrain from using non-purpose-built APODs for people with disability
RCOA recommends against placing anyone, particularly people with disability, in non-purpose-built APODs. If it is absolutely necessary, this group should be held in those facilities for the shortest period possible.
Recommendation 9 Review the risk assessment tool used in immigration detention
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review the current risk assessment tool used in immigration detention to ensure it appropriately considers an individual’s vulnerability and needs and provides real opportunities for a downgrade in risk ratings in response to positive behaviour.
Recommendation 10 Refrain from use of restraints on people with disability
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government refrain from the use of restraints on people with disability as much as possible.
Recommendation 11 Cease the use of high-care accommodation for quarantine purposes
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government cease the use of high-care accommodation units for quarantine purposes and under no circumstances place people with disability in such accommodation for the purpose of medical or operational quarantine.
Recommendation 12 Ensure appropriate aids and equipment are provided
RCOA agrees with the recommendation from NEDA that, if the Government continues with the policy of mandatory detention without considering people’s disability, it should ensure that at least appropriate aids and equipment, assistance technology and ‘reasonable adjustments’ are provided to them.
Recommendation 13 Ensure accessibility of programs and activities
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government ensures all program and activities in immigration detention be accessible to people with disability. If they are not, reasonable accommodations should be made to ensure that people with disability have equivalent options to programs and activities as other detainees.
Recommendation 14 Commission a comprehensive review of the mental health care provided in immigration detention
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government commission a comprehensive review of the mental health care provided in immigration detention. This review needs to have genuine input from people in detention with psychosocial disability and other people with disability who access mental health services as required.
Recommendation 15 Decommission detention facilities on Christmas Island
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government decommission the use of all detention facilities on Christmas Island. While the Government plans for this measure, it should urgently transfer anyone with disability out of Christmas Island; this includes people with psychosocial disability.
Recommendation 16 Cease offshore processing of people with disability
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government do not subject people with disability to offshore processing.
Recommendation 17 Establish an independent disability advisory group
RCOA supports the recommendation of NEDA and recommends that the Australian Government establish an independent disability advisory group that can provide advice to the Government about the support required by people with disability in detention and review the appropriateness of detention for people with disability.