Concerns about ‘cruel and arbitrary treatment’ in Australia’s immigration detention system are laid out in a report by the Australian OPCAT Network.

The immigration section was led by the Kaldor Centre’s Senior Research Associate Madeline Gleeson. It was part of a report submitted to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), ahead of their visits to Australia in 2020. 

It details issues in Australia’s immigration detention system, which places ‘some of the most vulnerable people in situations characterised by secrecy and a security culture, inadequate health care and other services, limited legal assistance, isolation from the community’ with little media and civil society access.

In some cases, people have been detained for more than nine years, the report notes. The data for people in immigration detention are increasingly insufficient or misleading, however, according to the report. For instance, some of the children in detention are classified as ‘guests’ and therefore excluded from these statistics.

Likewise, the Home Affairs Department reports that there are no people detained in the Regional Processing Centres (RPCs) on Nauru and Manus Island in PNG, as both of these former facilities are now closed, nor does it provide the number of people who remain in Nauru and PNG in other types of accommodation, including in detention. For example, in August 2019, when 53 men were detained in the Bomana Immigration Centre in Port Moresby, the Department continued to report the number of people detained in offshore facilities as zero

‘It is vital that Australia’s [OPCAT monitoring body] be empowered and resourced to properly examine the treatment of people in these places of detention,’ the report notes. ‘Offshore places of detention – in Papua New Guinea and Nauru – must also be covered … given these sites have been established by Australia and are effectively operated and controlled by Australia. These places have a sad history of isolation, oppressive conditions, lack of services, ill-health and self-harm.’

Australia ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in December 2017. The report also covers OPCAT obligations in the disability, aged care and justice systems. 

Image: Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, Sydney, Nov 2012. © DIAC