Friday, June 22, 2007

Refugees in Australia - Q & A (vi) - What about mandatory and arbitrary detention? What are the alternatives?

There are alternatives: Under Australian Law anybody who arrives undocumented is not only detained, but must remain in detention until they are either accepted as a refugee or deported. There is no access to judicial review. It is claimed that this model of mandatory detention without review is designed to deter and control onshore arrivals of asylum-seekers, and ensure that people are available for deportation if necessary.

Most Western countries recognise that a process must be in place for all entrants to a country to verify identity and to undertake health and security checks. Yet once these initial procedures have taken place there are alternatives to keeping asylum seekers in detention while the refugee assessment is carried out.

Ongoing, arbitrary detention with no recourse to judicial review is a violation of human rights. Asylum seekers have been detained for up to four years and children have been born into detention. There are better, more economically viable and more humane ways of responsibly handling onshore asylum-seekers.

For example, Sweden receives similar numbers of asylum seekers to Australia, despite having less than half the population. Detention is only used to establish a person's identity and to conduct criminal screening. Most detainees are released within a very short time, particularly if they have relatives or friends living in Sweden. Of the 17,000 asylum seekers currently in Sweden 10,000 reside outside the detention centres. Children are only detained for the minimum possible time (a maximum of six days). Detention is one way of receiving refugees, but it is not the humane or just way. It doesn't have to be like this.

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