Immigration Detention in Australia

Legal Status of Immigration Detention in Australia

The Australian government has a clear policy of immigration detention for non-citizens without a valid visa, those suspected of having entered the country illegally, persons awaiting deportation, and in cases of visa violations. Immigration detention policy is implemented based on a sophisticated system of indefinite, unreviewable, non-transparent or mandatory and automatic grades (Australia. Department Of Immigration. Information Office 2016). Detainees are then housed in community detention, immigration detention centers, and major turn-around sites located at major airports. Prior to the implementation of the mandatory detention policy, Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants had been readily accepted the Australian government on sympathetic grounds (Auteur: Australia & Australia. Parliament. Joint Select Committee On Australia’s Immigration Detention Network 2012).

However, the continued arrival of Indochinese asylum seekers presented an existential challenge to authorities due to overstretched infrastructure. This prompted law makers to introduce the Migration Legislation Amendment Act 1989 which allowed border agents on major ports of entry to detain individuals suspected of being an illegal entrant. Immigrants were detained in centers along the port of entry, with those residing outside such facilities expected to register with the Australian Protective Service.  The Port Hedland Immigration Reception and Processing center soon emerged as one of the first detention centers to address fluctuations in new arrivals. The mandatory detention policy was formally adopted by the Keating Government in mid-1992 as direct response to an influx of Indochinese arrivals at Christmas Island escaping the reverberations of the Vietnam War (1955-75) (Auteur: Michael Danby & Australia. Parliament. Joint Standing Committee On Migration 2016).

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Unauthorized non-citizens were to be held in similar government-run detention centers in the event they were deemed ineligible to be designated the temporary law status. In addition to preventing unlawful entry, this new law also instituted provisions for thorough assessment of immigrants before contact with the larger Australian populace. Section 13 of the Migration Amendment Act of 1992 now gave migration officers legal powers to detain any individual suspected of being an illegal entrant.

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Statistical Breakdown of Immigration Detention in Australia

The Department of Home Affairs is tasked with proper documentation of persons detained in detention facilities and offshore processing centers in the Australian territory. As of 30 June 2020, a grand total of 1523 individuals were held in mainland and offshore detention facilities run by the Australian government (Department of Home Affairs 2020).   They are mainly detained in Perth IDC, Villawood IDC, Yongah Hill IDC, Adelaide ITA, Melbourne ITA, Brisbane ITA, and Christmas Island (Lusher & Haslam 2017). A large section of this number is of individuals held in Christmas Island since it is considered one of the main ports of entry for would-be immigrants. 838 individuals have been allowed to reside amongst Australian communities after attaining their Bridging E Visas. 1519 of the initial number are asylum seekers, with the remaining 4 identified as fishermen detained for failing to respect Australia’s territorial integrity (Department of Home Affairs 2020). Most of the detainees hail from Iran, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka. 

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The following is a breakdown of the number of days spent in detention facilities as of 30 June, 2020:

Detention PeriodTotal Population
7 days or less26
8 to 31 Days84
32-91 Days161
92-182 Days211
183-265 Days393
366-547 Days149
548-730 Days110
Above 730 days389
Total1,523

Statistical Breakdown of Immigration Detention in Australia

  (Department of Home Affairs 2020)   It is also noteworthy to acknowledge that children are often detained alongside adults in immigration facilities in Australia. The Immigration Transit Accommodation and Immigration Residential Housing currently have less than five minors in their care. Although this number is relatively low, there are fears of a surge in numbers based on the increased frequency of maritime arrivals in designated ports of entry (Cameron, Frydenberg & Jackson 2011).  Children are now, customarily, offered alternative locations from offshore detention centers to mainland Australia where they are placed in the care of families pending determination of their cases.

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