More humane approach to treatment of asylum seekers and refugees

More humane approach to treatment of asylum seekers and refugees

The Australian Human Rights Commission has called for community placement options to be pursued urgently for all asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons who do not pose an unacceptable risk to the Australian community.

Commission President Catherine Branson QC released the Community arrangements for asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons report saying, “Commission staff recently visited a number of people living in the community – both in community detention and on bridging visas – as well as people in closed detention with very few prospects of release.”

“We found that, as well as being better aligned with Australia’s international human rights obligations, community arrangements offer a far more humane and effective approach to the treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons than closed detention.

“Maximum benefits will be derived where asylum seekers are placed in the community at the earliest opportunity following arrival, with appropriate support and opportunities for self-reliance and meaningful activities,” she said.

“An individual assessment of suitability for community placement should be conducted at the earliest opportunity post-arrival.”

Ms Branson has recommended that the government work towards a uniform model of community assessment and placement for asylum seekers, irrespective of their place or mode of arrival in Australia. She has further recommended that the right to seek paid work should be extended to all adults who have been placed in to community arrangements.

“We should also make sure all those in community placement are given the opportunity to enrol in vocational training, and to attend English language classes. Those who are unable to generate an independent income should have access to a level of income support sufficient to meet their basic needs,” Ms Branson said.

She said it was crucial that access to essential health care and counselling be made available and that school-aged children have full access to formal education.

During its visits to four immigration detention facilities, the Commission spoke with asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons, some of whom had received adverse security assessments and some of whom are of interest to the Australian Federal Police or who have been charged in relation to detention centre disturbances during early 2011.

“Under current arrangements, many of these people appear likely to remain in closed detention for the foreseeable future,” Ms Branson said.

She said that there are many benefits associated with community arrangements. She said community placement can be much cheaper than closed detention and can allow for readier transition to life as an Australian resident for people who are granted protection.

“Community arrangements entail fewer risks to the health, mental health, safety and wellbeing of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons and are therefore likely to lead to lower rates of suicide and self-harm as well as fewer claims for compensation,” Ms Branson said.

“There are also very low rates of absconding from community arrangements

“And, importantly, let’s not forget that community placements allow for the full enforcement of immigration law, and, where there is any risk, conditions can be applied within a community setting to mitigate this risk.”

The Commission has made a total of eight recommendations in the report including that the government end the system of mandatory and indefinite immigration detention, assess the need to detain people on a case-by-case basis, and give consideration to releasing from detention those refugees who’ve received adverse security assessments, or to placing them in a less restrictive form of detention.

The report can be found online here.

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