The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has called on Foreign Minister Marise Payne to speak up about her government’s appalling record on immigration detention after she expressed public concern about the impacts of arbitrary detention in other countries.
In a statement to mark Human Rights Day, Senator Payne outlined her international human rights concerns noting, among other points, that “Australia is deeply concerned by instances around the world of arbitrary detention”.
RCOA Chief Executive Officer Paul Power has written to Senator Payne calling on her to act on her own government’s arbitrary detention record, noting that the average length of time spent in detention in Australia is now greater than at any point in Australian history. The average of 696 days in detention for the 1440 people held in locked facilities is also well in excess of comparable countries such as Canada (25 days) and the United States (71.6 days).
“Behind these statistics are many tragic circumstances,” Mr Power wrote in his letter to Senator Payne. “Every day, we at the Refugee Council of Australia hear directly from, or hear reports from others about, individuals who are at breaking point because of their extended length of detention. We hear of many serious mental health issues, self-harm and even suicides, directly attributable to extended detention.
“In many circumstances, the extended period of detention cannot be justified, as is ultimately illustrated when people are released into the Australian community after years in detention. While people rejoice when these releases occur, everyone who witnesses these events is left wondering what was gained by denying personal liberty to a fellow human being for so long.
“As a Minister who champions human rights, you should be deeply disturbed that your Government, in direct contravention of the Refugee Convention, is currently detaining dozens of people with refugee status who have committed no crime. There are currently around 70 people detained in Australia who were transferred for medical attention from offshore processing arrangements in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
“The great majority of these 70 people were granted refugee status in PNG and Nauru under a refugee assessment process established with the support of the Australian Government. It is extraordinary that Australia’s Refugee Convention obligations are being ignored with their continued detention. There is no apparent community safety concern which keeps these refugees in detention – and it is certainly arbitrary that they are detained when more than 1100 people also transferred to Australia in the same circumstances are currently living in the Australian community.”
Noting that extended and arbitrary detention has been a concern in Australia since the Keating Government’s introduction of mandatory detention in 1993 for people arriving by boat to seek asylum, Mr Power called on Senator Payne to act to reverse the policy, in line with her views about arbitrary detention in other countries.
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