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Fact sheet 82 - Immigration detention

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Understanding immigration detention

Australia's Migration Act 1958 requires people who are not Australian citizens and do not hold a valid visa to be detained. Unless they are given legal permission to remain in Australia by being granted a visa, such unlawful non-citizens must be removed from Australia as soon as reasonably practicable.

Immigration detention supports a well-managed migration system and is used to enable the identification and management of potential risks to the Australian community, including national security, health and character risks. It also supports the integrity of Australia's visa programmes.

The time detainees are held in immigration detention can be affected by a number of factors including difficulty in satisfactorily determining identity, developments in country information and the complexity of processing due to individual circumstances relating to health, character or security matters. Where a detainee challenges visa or removal decisions, this can also lengthen their period of time in detention.

Management of detainees in immigration detention is subject to parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.

Australian immigration detention facilities, including those on Christmas Island, are regularly visited by the Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Red Cross, pastoral care providers and representatives of community groups. There are also robust internal feedback and complaints systems in place at all facilities.

The length and conditions of immigration detention, including the appropriateness of both the accommodation and the services provided, are also subject to regular internal and external review.

Families with children

It is government policy that children will not be held in immigration detention centres. Children might be accommodated in low security facilities within the immigration detention network to manage health, security and identity risks to themselves or their guardians. Facilities include immigration residential housing, immigration transit accommodation and alternative places of detention.

Accompanied and unaccompanied minors

If a child does not have a parent or relative over the age of 21 years to care for them in Australia, we contract non-government organisations to provide care and services to them.

Immigration detention facilities

We have four types of immigration detention facilities in Australia:

  • immigration detention centres
  • immigration residential housing
  • immigration transit housing
  • alternative places of detention.

They all have different roles.

In addition to immigration detention facilities, some detainees might be released into the community and accommodated in community-based arrangements. These include entering the Community Detention Programme or being released into the community on a Bridging Visa E (BVE).

Immigration detention centres

Immigration detention centres are for people who have overstayed their visa, are in breach of their visa conditions or who have come here without a valid visa. People who are refused entry into Australia at international airports and seaports may also be detained in an immigration detention centre. The centres provide accommodation for medium and high risk detainees and the majority of the population are single adult males.

We manage the following immigration detention centres:

  • Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre
  • Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre
  • Northern Immigration Detention Centre
  • Perth Immigration Detention Centre
  • Villawood Immigration Detention Centre  
  • Scherger Immigration Detention Centre
  • Curtin Immigration Detention Centre
  • Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre.

Immigration residential housing

Immigration residential housing is flexible housing that allows detainees in immigration detention to have more autonomy. The benefit of this domestic style of accommodation is that detainees are able to cook their own food and control many aspects of their household. In addition to the usual recreational and social activities, detainees are also able to go shopping and take part in community events. Eligibility for immigration residential housing depends on results from health and character checks and whether immigration residential housing is available.

We manage the following immigration residential housing:

  • Perth Immigration Residential Housing
  • Port Augusta Immigration Residential Housing
  • Sydney Immigration Residential Housing.

Immigration transit accommodation

Immigration transit accommodation provides hostel-style accommodation for detainees whose immigration pathway, generally, is likely to be resolved quickly. Detainees receive three meals a day and can make snacks for themselves at other times. The detention services provider arranges programmes and activities, including onsite recreational facilities.

We manage the following immigration transit accommodations:

  • Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation
  • Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation
  • Adelaide Immigration Transit Accommodation.

Alternative places of detention

This type of facility is for detainees we assess as being minimal risk to our communities. Alternative places of detention are often used to accommodate families, children and detainees in need of medical treatment. Alternative places of detention can be in the form of rented housing in the community, hotel rooms and other community housing through arrangements with other government departments.

We manage the following alternative places of detention:

  • Inverbrackie Alternative Place of Detention
  • Leonora Alternative Place of Detention
  • Darwin Airport Lodge Alternative Place of Detention
  • Berrimah House and Northern Alternative Place of Detention
  • Wickham Point Alternative Place of Detention
  • Construction Camp Alternative Place of Detention
  • Phosphate Hill Alternative Place of Detention
  • Aqua/Lilac Alternative Place of Detention
  • Bladin Alternative Place of Detention.

Community detention

Community detention enables detainees, where approved by the minister, to reside in the community with certain conditions. Since expanding the Community Detention Programme in October 2010, significant numbers of unaccompanied minors, vulnerable family groups and vulnerable single adults have been relocated from immigration detention facilities to community-based accommodation.

We have contracts with a number of not-for-profit organisations to deliver support arrangements to community detainees. This includes housing, residential/out-of-home care for unaccompanied minors, case workers, an allowance to meet daily living costs, health care, and education for school aged children.
See: Fact sheet 83 - Community detention

Management of detainees in immigration detention

We manage detainees in immigration detention by providing the following:

  • health care
  • general services, including meals, education, recreation and religious activities
  • care arrangements for unaccompanied minors.

Health care provided to detainees in immigration detention facilities

All detainees in immigration detention have access to health care at a standard generally comparable to the health care available to the Australian community. We currently have a contract with International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) which provides and coordinates health care for detainees in immigration detention, including community detention.

Detainees entering immigration detention undergo a health induction assessment, which includes assessing for any physical and mental health issues. This assessment informs an ongoing health care plan.

IHMS provides primary health care through general practitioners (GPs), nurses, counsellors and psychologists located within immigration detention facilities. Specialist and ancillary services, including psychiatric, dental and physiotherapy, are provided by referral to an IHMS community network provider or onsite, by visiting practitioners. Emergency and acute health care is provided by local hospitals. Some immigration detention facilities have paramedics or nurses located onsite after-hours.

Health care provided to community detainees 

The health needs of community detainees are coordinated by IHMS, through a network of community-based providers. Community detainees are assigned a GP and pharmacy and, as required, the GP will refer the detainee to other health services, such as allied and specialist services. Community detainees can make an appointment with their GP at any time and are subject to the same waiting times as any member of the Australian community accessing public health services. The costs of health provisions for community detainees are billed to IHMS and passed through to us.

Education and other activities

The detention service provider runs cultural and lifestyle classes, sporting activities, excursions such as fishing or shopping trips, educational programmes and English language classes for detainees in immigration detention.

Detainees in immigration detention facilities have access to resources and equipment for self-education and recreation. These include computers, CDs and videos, art and craft supplies, sport and recreational facilities and equipment, a library with a variety of reading material in various languages, and computers with internet access.


A variety of nutritious meals are served three times a day. Meals are also prepared for cultural and religious festivals, such as Ramadan and Christmas. Detainees who need special diets for cultural or medical reasons are catered for. Beverages and snacks are available between meals as well.

Individual Allowance Programme

The Individual Allowance Programme (IAP) is a system by which detainees can earn points in order to access incidental items from shops and canteens in immigration detention facilities.  The IAP is managed by Serco on behalf of the department. Detainees in immigration detention are given mandatory points each week and have the opportunity to earn more by participating in a variety of programs and activities. Points do not accumulate; if they are not used by the end of the week, they are forfeited. Points may not be transferred between individuals (unless in a family) and are not exchangeable for cash.  The IAP allows detainees in immigration detention to purchase phone cards, and other incidental items such as newspapers, additional hygiene items, recreational items, snacks and soft drinks. 


All immigration detention facilities have areas for prayer and worship services, and detainees in immigration detention can practise the religion of their choice. Religious representatives provide services for most major faiths. Detainees have access to:

  • religious representatives
  • appropriate religious books and materials
  • communal areas for religious activities, celebrations, feasts and worship.

Care arrangements for unaccompanied minors

We entered into a contract with MAXimusSolutions Australia to provide specific care and support for all children who are in immigration detention facilities throughout Australia who don't have a parent or guardian with them. MAXimusSolutions work closely with us and Serco to coordinate care arrangements for children to ensure their unique needs are met, and their safety and wellbeing promoted.

While detainees are in immigration detention, there are a range of meetings and interviews which they are required to undertake. For children and young people who don't have a parent or guardian with them, the contract with MAXimusSolutions provides for independent observer services. The independent observer is there to provide a friendly and reassuring presence for the child and to provide pastoral care and support through formal interview processes.

Tracing and restoring family links

We entered into a contract with the Australian Red Cross to provide an immigration detention Restoring Family Links (RFL) service to detainees held in immigration detention.

The objective of the RFL service is to re-establish contact for detainees in immigration detention who have lost contact or have been separated from family members or close friends by situations of armed conflict, internal violence, natural disaster and any other humanitarian cases in which there are no other means of communication.

Immigration detention statistics

Statistics for the number of detainees held in each of the immigration detention facilities are updated regularly and are available online.
See: About immigration detention

External scrutiny of immigration detention services

As well as Parliament, other agencies which examine the operations of immigration detention are:

  • the Australian Human Rights Commission
  • the Commonwealth Ombudsman
  • the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
  • the Australian Red Cross.

We advise the Commonwealth Ombudsman and Parliament regularly on the status of detainees who have been in immigration detention for two years or more.

The Minister's Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention provides the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection with independent advice on the resolution of immigration status for people seeking asylum or other migration outcomes in Australia.

Detainees have the right to provide feedback about their treatment in immigration detention without adverse consequences. Their feedback will be followed up quickly and fairly and can be submitted to:

  • the detention service provider or departmental staff at the facility
  • the Commonwealth Ombudsman
  • state and federal police
  • state and territory child welfare agencies
  • other external agencies such as the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Fact Sheet 82. Produced by the National Communications Branch, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Canberra.
Last reviewed December 2013.

Last modified Wednesday 27 August 2014