10 June 2011: UNHCR has today launched in Australia an important international report into the impact of immigration detention on refugees and asylum-seekers, and alternatives to detention that can be considered to reduce this impact.
The UNHCR report, Back to Basics: The Right to Liberty and Security of Person and ‘Alternatives to Detention’ of Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Stateless Persons and Other Migrants, was released in Geneva in April and was today launched in Canberra following an expert roundtable that looked at alternatives to detention.
The Report compares the policies of detention and the alternatives available in several States around the world, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom.
“In the Australian context, UNHCR has longstanding concerns that mandatory detention for prolonged periods, particularly in isolated locations and crowded conditions, can quickly impact on the psycho-social health and welfare of asylum-seekers and refugees,” UNHCR Regional Representative Richard Towle said today.
“This Report is a welcome addition to our discussions with the Government and non-government sector on viable alternatives to detention that can ensure that the health, welfare and human rights needs of those arriving by boat are being appropriately met while, at the same time, satisfying the legitimate security concerns of the State.”
The Report explores different models of alternatives to detention such as: reporting ‘in person’ to authorities at regular intervals; schemes for release on bail; and community-based and supervised release. Importantly, the Report finds that:
· there is no empirical evidence at all that detention deters irregular migration;
· less than 10 per cent of asylum applicants released into the community abscond when released to proper supervision and facilities;
· alternatives are a significantly cheaper option than detention both in the short and longer term; and
· people released into the community fare better in terms of self-reliance, overall health, and psycho-social wellbeing.
“UNHCR has been particularly concerned about the impact of detention on vulnerable groups of refugees and asylum-seekers, and welcomes the Government’s efforts to move many children and family groups into more appropriate community-based accommodation,” Mr Towle said.
“We hope that our constructive discussions with the Government and the non-government sector will continue, and that Australia will consider exploring alternatives to detention for other asylum-seekers who pose no identified health or security risks to the community.”
Download the full report.