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The continuing crisis in immigration detention

  • 17 December 2020
  In 2020, many Australians experienced constraints on their freedom for the first time. Regulations introduced to reduce the spread of COVID-19 meant that, for a short period, we weren’t able to go to shops, restaurants and other public places when we wanted. It was a rude shock for a population that up until that point took its personal liberties for granted.

It was widely acknowledged that the strict lockdown conditions implemented in Victoria during the state’s second wave of COVID-19 infections — where people were allowed outside for only one hour a day and limited travel to within five kilometres of home — were enormously difficult to endure and unsustainable over the long term. Many commentators voiced concerns over the restrictions’ impact on mental health.

And yet refugees in Australia endure conditions like these for periods much longer than 112 days, the length of the Melbourne lockdown. The average length of detention in Australia is more than 500 days — vastly more than the UK, where 87 per cent of detainees have been in detention for less than six months, and Canada, where the average stay in 2019 was 12.3 days. As of November 2020, the Australian government held 1500 people in immigration detention.

A new report from the Australian Human Rights Commission notes that ‘almost every human rights problem in closed immigration detention is made worse the longer an individual is detained.’

Many refugees in Australia live in conditions that the rest of the population would find unacceptable. Most of the 192 refugees who were transferred to Australia under the Medevac legislation between February and December 2019 are currently held at hotels in Melbourne and Brisbane, known as ‘alternative places of detention’ (APOD), where they have had no access to the outdoors or fresh air for more than 12 months.

Ismail Hussein, a 29-year-old refugee from Somalia who was detained at the Mantra hotel in Preston in Melbourne’s north, told Guardian Australia that the only time he was not in his room is the one hour a day he spends at the gym. ‘The rest of the day, I’m lying on my bed or sitting on the chair,’ he said, describing the conditions as ‘more difficult than what we experienced in Manus Island’.

Moz Azimi is a Kurdish refugee who fled Iran eight years ago. Azimi, who lives with PTSD, told Junkee that although he was medically transferred to Australia, he has not received any medical attention