Fact Sheet 82 - Immigration Detention
On this page
- New directions in detention
- Key immigration detention values
- No children in immigration detention centres
- Health care arrangements
- Immigration detention
- Community detention
- Immigration transit accommodation
- Immigration residential housing
- Immigration detention centres
- Immigration detention on Christmas Island
- Immigration detention services and standards
- Contract arrangements
- Immigration detention statistics
- External scrutiny
- Minister's Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention(MCASD)
- The Detention Health Advisory Group
The object of Australia's Migration Act 1958 is to regulate, in the national interest, the lawful entry and stay of people in Australia. All non-citizens wanting to visit Australia have to apply for, and be granted, a visa to enter Australia.
Non-citizens who are in the migration zone and do not hold a valid visa entitling them to remain in Australia are unlawful non-citizens.
Australia's Migration Act 1958 requires that unlawful non-citizens who are in Australia's migration zone be detained and that unless they are granted permission to remain in Australia, they must be removed as soon as reasonably practicable.
Those who are found to be refugees are released from immigration detention immediately, subject to health and character requirements.
Australia's mandatory immigration detention policy was introduced in 1992 and expanded in 1994. It has since been maintained by successive governments with bipartisan support in parliament.
In July 2008, the minister announced a fundamental shift in immigration detention policy delivered in his 'New Directions in Detention' speech. The reforms announced include the introduction of seven 'Key Immigration Detention Values' to guide detention policy and practices into the future, and the implementation of a new processing regime for unauthorised arrivals on Christmas Island.
The announcements in July will see the government maintain a strong stance on border security while also treating people fairly and humanely.
The government's approach to immigration detention is based on a set of values that take a risk-based approach to immigration detention and seek a prompt resolution of cases. The values commit the department to detention as a last resort, to detention for the shortest practicable period and to the rejection of indefinite or otherwise arbitrary detention.
The government's seven key immigration detention values are:
- Mandatory detention is an essential component of strong border control.
- To support the integrity of Australia's immigration program, three groups will be subject to mandatory detention:
- all unauthorised arrivals, for management of health, identity and security risks to the community
- unlawful non-citizens who present unacceptable risks to the community and
- unlawful non-citizens who have repeatedly refused to comply with their visa conditions.
- Children, including juvenile foreign fishers and, where possible, their families, will not be detained in an immigration detention centre.
- Detention that is indefinite or otherwise arbitrary is not acceptable and the length and conditions of detention, including the appropriateness of both the accommodation and the services provided, would be subject to regular review.
- Detention in immigration detention centres is only to be used as a last resort and for the shortest practicable time.
- People in detention will be treated fairly and reasonably within the law.
- Conditions of detenton will ensure the inherent dignity of the human person.
It is government policy that children will not be held in immigration detention centres.
While there will be occasions when children will be accommodated in low-security facilities within the immigration detention network, such as immigration residential housing, immigration transit accommodation and community detention, the priority will always be that children and their families will be promptly accommodated in community detention.
This allows children and their families to move about in the community and receive support from non-government organisations and state welfare agencies, as necessary.
All people in immigration detention can gain access to appropriate health care commensurate with the level of care available to the broader community.
For people in community detention and immigration residential housing, health care services are provided by community-based health providers. For people in facility-based detention, most primary health services are available onsite with referral to external health providers in the community as clinically required.
An initial health assessment is offered to every person entering immigration detention to identify conditions that will require attention. This assessment includes the collection of personal and medical history, a physical examination and formalised mental health screening and assessment.
Treatment management is coordinated through the department's contracted health services manager for all people who have a clinically identified need for ongoing medical treatment. As well as the initial health assessment, there are mechanisms in place to identify health needs that may emerge during a person's time in detention, including formal monitoring processes such as the three-monthly mental health review in detention centres.
A discharge health assessment is completed for each person being discharged from any immigration detention placement. This assessment includes the provision of a health discharge summary from the health services manager to the individual, which informs future health providers of relevant health history, treatment received during detention and any ongoing treatment regimes. Where appropriate, linkages are made with relevant community health providers to facilitate ongoing care beyond discharge.
The department uses a number of programs which provide flexibility in the provision of services to people in immigration detention. These arrangements include community detention facilitated by organisations such as the Red Cross, detention in immigration residential housing or immigration transit accommodation and foster care arrangements (for unaccompanied minors).
Community detention is a form of immigration detention that enables people in detention to reside and move about freely in the community without needing to be accompanied or restrained by an officer under the Migration Act 1958.
The department works with non-government organisations (NGOs) to ensure people placed in community detention are appropriately supported. NGOs are funded by the department to source appropriate housing, provide payment of living expenses, and to ensure access to relevant health and community services and social support networks is provided.
See: Fact Sheet 83a – Community Detention
Immigration transit accommodation has been introduced for short-term, low flight risk people. The Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation opened in November 2007 and the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation opened in June 2008. Further immigration transit accommodation will be located in Adelaide.
Immigration transit accommodation offers hostel-style accommodation, with central dining areas and semi-independent living. Immigration transit accommodation provides a narrower range of services at a less intensive level than is typically offered in an immigration detention centre because of the short-stay nature of the client group.
Immigration residential housing is a less institutional, more domestic and independent environment for low flight and security risk people in detention, particularly families with children. Participation in immigration residential housing accommodation is voluntary, subject to meeting eligibility criteria.
Some of the benefits of immigration residential housing are that residents can cook their own food and undertake a range of typical household responsibilities. This includes accompanied visits to local shops for groceries and other household or personal necessities. Residents are also able to undertake accompanied visits to local recreational facilities and attend educational and developmental activities that are undertaken in the community.
Immigration residential housing is in place at Perth and Sydney.
See: Fact Sheet 83 Immigration Residential Housing (IRH)
Immigration detention centres primarily accommodate people who have overstayed their visa, breached their visa conditions and had their visa cancelled or have been refused entry at Australia's entry ports. There are centres located at:
- Villawood (established in Sydney in 1976)
- Maribyrnong (established in Melbourne in 1966)
- Perth (established in 1981)
- Christmas Island (established in 2001)
- Northern (established in Darwin in 2001).
The government will deliver on its commitment to extensively redevelop the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, with $186.3 million allocated for the five-year project. The redeveloped centre will include a range of accommodation options to account for the different requirements of people in detention and will make the most of the existing infrastructure, where possible, to ensure greater value for money.
The redevelopment, which will remedy concerns raised through the Australian Human Rights Commission, will now proceed to detailed design and scrutiny through the Public Works Committee of Parliament. It is envisaged the redevelopment works will be done in stages, with the project to be completed in 2013–14.
In July 2008, the government announced the 'New Directions in Detention' policy. The new policy aims to provide fairer, more independent and transparent processing arrangements for asylum seekers who arrive at an excised offshore place.
Under these arrangements, asylum seekers receive publicly funded independent advice and assistance, including access to independent merit review of unfavourable refugee status assessments and external scrutiny by the Commonwealth and Immigration Ombudsman. These measures build on strengthened procedural guidance for departmental officers conducting refugee status assessments.
Under the enhanced processing arrangements, all irregular maritime arrivals are treated fairly and humanely and have their asylum claims assessed as expeditiously as possible.
The department will ensure services delivered by contracted service providers will be provided in a fair, reasonable and humane manner, through implementing performance standards in each contract which are focused on service outcomes to people in detention.
These performance standards will be monitored through a robust performance management framework. Standards to be monitored include interaction and well-being of people in detention, programs and activities, catering, transport, reception, cleaning, reporting of incidents and complaints.
On 29 June 2009, the department entered into a five-year contract with Serco Australia Pty Ltd to provide services to people in immigration detention centres throughout Australia. Transition from the previous detention service provider G4S Australia Pty Ltd was completed in November 2009.
The department signed a contract in January 2009 with International Health and Medical Services Pty Limited (IHMS) to provide general and mental health services to people in immigration detention. Transition from the previous health contracts was completed in May 2009.
On 11 December 2009, the department entered into a five-year contract with Serco Australia Pty Ltd to provide services to people in immigration residential housing and immigration transit accommodation throughout Australia. Transition from the current detention service provider G4S will be completed by the end of January 2010.
The table below is the total number of people held in immigration detention.
|Year||No. of people|
Source: Departmental systems
Statistics for the number of people held in each of the immigration detention centres are updated regularly and are available online.
See: Immigration detention statistics
Services provided for immigration detention centres are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and accountability and are subject to both administrative and judicial review. In fact, the immigration detention process is among the most closely scrutinised of all government programs.
Immigration detention is subject to regular scrutiny from external agencies such as the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Minister's Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention (MCASD) to ensure people in immigration detention are treated humanely, decently and fairly.
The department has implemented a targeted strategy to ensure that people in immigration detention understand they can complain or provide feedback about any aspect of their detention. Posters detailing the process for providing feedback have been provided to all places of detention. The posters are available in a number of languages.
The Minister's Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention (MCASD) will provide the minister with independent advice on the development of policies, processes, services and programs, necessary for achieving timely, fair, and effective resolution of immigration status for people seeking asylum or other migration outcomes in Australia.
See: Minister's Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention (MCASD)
The Detention Health Advisory Group (DeHAG) was formed in 2006. The DeHAG plays a major role in providing DIAC with advice regarding the design, implementation and monitoring of improvements in health care (particularly mental health care) for people in immigration detention.
The establishment of this group reflects the department's strong commitment to being closely engaged with its key stakeholders in a more open and accountable interaction. The group comprises of practitioners from key health professional organisations. The Ombudsman's office has observer status.
Further information is available on the department's website.
The department also operates a national general enquiries line.
Telephone: 131 881
Hours of operation: Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm. Recorded information is available outside these hours.
Fact Sheet 82. Produced by the National Communications Branch, Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Canberra.
Last Reviewed May 2012.
© Commonwealth of Australia 2010.