The first major evaluation of the expansion of community detention in Australia has found the program poses little risk to asylum seekers.

The review, conducted by UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre and Centre for Refugee Research, and commissioned by the Federal Department of Immigration and Citizenship found that community detention improved asylum seekers’ wellbeing.

“Concern has been expressed by the public and the media about asylum seekers living in the community, but the majority of community detention residents reported building positive relationships with Australians in the broader community,” said lead researcher Professor Ilan Katz from the Social Policy Research Centre.

Professor Katz said the evaluation found that community detention increased self-agency and a sense of normality for asylum seekers.

“Participating in meaningful activities and having the freedom to make decisions about their daily lives was a major factor influencing the wellbeing of people in community detention,” he said.

The number of asylum seekers in community detention rose from 30 to 1,320 between June 2010 and July 2012 following the federal government’s decision to move children and vulnerable families out of detention centres and into community detention.

The Evaluation of the expansion of the community detention program involved qualitative interviews with 105 residents of community detention, 82 service provider staff and numerous stakeholders.

Respondents reported the advantages of community detention are:

  • not having to live in close quarters with others who are angry or distressed
  • freedom to have private/personal time when necessary
  • freedom to make choices about daily life, including what to eat and when, who to visit and how personal time is spent
  • a more ‘natural’ environment for children, young people, vulnerable adults and families than held detention
  • parents reported a return to relatively ‘normal’ family life and the authority to make decisions on behalf of their children
  • opportunities to familiarise themselves with Australian life and Australians in a range of informal situations.

The factors negatively affecting people in community detention related to uncertainty about determining refugee status, anxiety about absent family members, and the trauma they had experienced in their home countries and on the journey to Australia, rather than community detention itself.

The evaluation identified a number of improvements that need to be made to the program:

  • communication during transition in and out of the program
  • slow and cumbersome decision making processes
  • inadequate resources/facilities for some people
  • support services
  • meaningful activities
  • complex contracting arrangements

“The evaluation shows that despite the inherent challenges of the rapid expansion of this program, community detention is an important part of the range of options for asylum seekers,” said Professor Katz.

“The Department of Immigration and Citizenship and service providers need to continue working together to improve and streamline the program.”

Read the Sydney Morning Herald article.

Media contact: Fran Strachan, UNSW Media Office| 9385 8732 | 0429 416 070