An independent body focused on upholding human rights in detention facilities has flagged major issues in Australia’s immigration detention centres.
Its assessment comes after visiting 10 immigration detention centres across Australia in 2022. It has made 18 recommendations to the Federal Department of Home Affairs to improve conditions.
The National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) is an independent government body that works to prevent torture and other inhuman treatment in detention centres.
This month, they released their annual report on observations made while visiting detention centres across Australia.
Immigration detention is used in Australia to detain people that don’t hold valid visas and are considered unlawful non-citizens under Australian law. People are often held in an immigration detention facility while their immigration status is determined.
The Australian Government has come under fire for poor treatment and management of the facilities. Last year, for example, a United Nations torture prevention body accused Australia of breaching an international treaty after it was denied entry to some of the detention centres.
The NPM found multiple instances of concerning management by officials at Australian detention centres. This included the unplanned use of force for routine activities in facilities in NSW and on Christmas Island.
A “pre-planned and systematic use of force” on Christmas Island was also reported twice in 2022, where fire extinguishers were used against people to control movement and clear them from certain areas.
The Department of Home Affairs confirmed the use of fire extinguishers was unauthorised in these incidents, and action had been taken to ensure this didn’t happen again.
Major concerns were also flagged with the use of hotel accommodation for immigration detention, due to limited outdoor access, privacy, and activities.
This included a food contamination incident at the Melbourne Park Hotel, whereby maggots were discovered in one of the detainees’ dinner. It wasn’t replaced because the maggots were “just on the vegetables”.
All detainees in the Park Hotel were removed last year, though other hotel facilities are still operating in Australia.
The NPM made 18 recommendations to the Federal Government to improve the state of immigration centres in Australia.
These were based on the health and wellbeing of people in the centres, overall detention management, and COVID-19 management.
Recommendations included documenting the decisions leading to the approved use of physical restraints against detainees, abandoning the use of hotels for long-term detention (over four weeks), and providing alternative meals when food served isn’t fit for consumption.
The Government’s response
The Department of Home Affairs agreed with 13 of the report’s recommendations, and noted three others.
They disagreed with two recommendations related to the communication of COVID-19 health advice, and removing vaccination requirements for visitors to the facilities.
The Government agreed with recommendations about physical restraint documentation and alternative meals being provided.
The blocking of long-term hotel detention was noted, with the NPM saying they “remained concerned” about this form of detention.