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Australian HR Commission concerned about Christmas Island immigration detention

In a report published on Thursday following a recent visit, the Australian Human Rights Commission said it "continues to hold serious concerns about the appropriateness of holding asylum seekers in immigration detention on Christmas island."

Asserting that the conditions are "not appropriate for asylum seekers", the Commission stated it "has ongoing concerns about the prison-like nature of the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), the harsh conditions in the Aqua and Lilac compounds, and the inappropriateness of the Construction Camp as a place for accommodating families with children and unaccompanied minors."

It went on to highlight "significant overcrowding", concerns around a lack of sufficient mental health services to keep pace with a growing demand, and that children "continue to be subjected to mandatory detention on Christmas Island, in breach of Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)," as key issues.

In the Aqua Compound - a one of the 'secure' immigration detention facility - the Commission found that single adult men were being housed along side families with children, which the Commission felt may lead to a further breach of the CRC. Thirty-five children were reported to be housed in this 'secure' compound. Most family groups are housed within the Construction Camp, a 'low security detention facility'.

On this visit, the Commission detailed that 1989 people were in current detention, included 315 children, and 944 people from the island of Sri Lanka.

See full report here.

Extract reproduced below:

The Commission has particular concerns that families with children and unaccompanied minors continue to be subjected to mandatory detention on Christmas Island, despite the Migration Act containing as a principle that a minor shall only be detained as a measure of last resort. As noted above, the Commission has long opposed the mandatory detention of children because it leads to fundamental breaches of their human rights, including their right to be detained only as a last resort, and for the shortest appropriate period of time.[22] In order to comply with its obligation under the CRC, in deciding whether to detain a child, the Australian Government should consider any less restrictive alternatives available. A child should only be detained in exceptional circumstances.

The Commission continues to advocate for changes to the Migration Act to ensure that children are only detained as a measure of last resort; and that if they are detained, it is for the shortest appropriate period of time and subject to independent and judicial review mechanisms.[24] The Commission has repeatedly recommended that the Australian Government should implement the recommendations of the report, of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, A last resort?, that Australia’s immigration detention laws be amended to comply with the CRC, including:

There should be a presumption against the detention of children for immigration purposes.

A court or independent tribunal should assess whether there is a need to detain children for immigration purposes within 72 hours of any initial detention (for example, for the purposes of health identity or security checks).

There should be prompt and periodic review by a court of the legality of continuing detention for immigration purposes.

All courts and independent tribunals should be guided by the following principles:

  • detention of children must be a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time
  • the best interests of children must be a primary consideration
  • the preservation of family unity
  • special protection and assistance for unaccompanied children.