Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Mandatory detention changes

Minister for Immigration Chris Evans is today expected to announce several reforms including a new emphasis on only detaining those posing a risk to the community.

Under the changes asylum seekers denied a visa will be offered legal assistance and efforts will be made to shorten detention periods.

The announcement will include the temporary closure of the $400 million detention centre built on Christmas Island by the Howard government.

Dr Graham Thom from Amnesty International said this will bring Australia into line with other western democracies.

"We are certainly hoping that most of the people in detention will be released," he said.

"The vast majority are either asylum seekers or visa over-stayers.

"This is a very fundamental change because really for the last 15 years Australia has reserved the right to mandatorily detain somebody simply based on their lack of a visa and wanting to keep them in detention for as long as possible."

Dr Thom expects the new refugee policy will mirror those of other western democracies.

"Hopefully these changes will bring Australia in line with other western democracies and into line with our international obligations," he said.

Updated: 9:30am (AEST)

Govt to release most asylum seekers

The majority of asylum seekers will no longer be detained under major immigration reforms announced by Immigration Minister Chris Evans.

The Government will not completely scrap mandatory detention but Senator Evans says the Department of Immigration will have to justify why a person should be detained.

"A person who poses no danger to the community will be able to remain in the community while their visa status is resolved," Senator Evans said.

Mandatory detention will now apply to three groups that the Minister says pose a risk to the wider community, such as those who have repeatedly breached their visa conditions.

"Once in detention a detainee's case will be reviewed every three months to ensure that the further detention of the individual is justified," Senator Evans said.

Children will also no longer be detained.

Asylum seekers who arrive at Christmas Island will still also be detained for health and security checks and will also continue to be processed at Christmas Island.

However, they will now have access to legal assistance.

Refugee Advocate Marion Le says she hopes this means most detainees will eventually be able to be released into the community.

"My understanding would be that he's actually looking at releasing all people who are now detained except those who pose a verifiable, I hope, risk to the Australian public or to security," refugee advocate Marion Le said.

"A lot of people are there for what we would all think are pretty minor breaches of immigration law that are very complex and that most people can't get across.

"I welcome any move by this government to overcome the years of callous misdirection and abuse, absolute abuse of human beings by the Howard government during the years of the mandatory detention regime," she said.

Federal Liberal politician Judi Moylan also welcomes the changes, as one of a group of Liberal MPs who opposed their own party's immigration policies while in government.

"Clearly my view is well known on this and I don't believe we should be keeping people in detention centres any more than we absolutely have to. There may be occasions when its necessary but on the face of it I would welcome such a move.

At present, 385 people are held in immigration detention. Of those, 64 are seeking asylum or waiting for a result from an application for a protection visa.


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