“Period of Inappropriate detention”: Lawful migrants get locked up

Senate Estimates questioning has uncovered five lawful non-citizens were detained ‘inappropriately’.

In plain speak, five migrants were held in detention centres when they shouldn’t have been because they held valid visas.

A response to question AE14/440 documents these instances:

Detainee Age Sex Length of Time in Detention Period of Inappropriate Detention Name and location of detention facility
1 25 Male 17 days 17 days Villawood Immigration Detention Centre
2 50 Male 1070 days 7 days Community Detention
3 55 Male 50 days 7 days Melbourne Immigration Detention Centre
4 20 Male 14 days <1 day Adelaide Immigration Transit Accommodation
5 25 Male 22 days 22 days Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation

Case number four was resolved very quickly. Cases two and three appear to be instances where a migrant was held in detention properly but their residency status changed to lawful. However this did not result in being released for a seven day period. I don’t know how common this is but with a system of mandatory detention, this type of situation presumably arises occasionally.

Cases 1 and 5 are, to me, the examples which show there is something wrong somewhere in the system. Both cases show a migrant who was presumably legal the entire time being held in detention facilities. After the massive reform efforts undertaken after two Australian citizens were detained in the mid-2000s, its sad this still occurs.

Unfortunately, I’m surprised this doesn’t occur more often. The confluence of the department, sub-par IT systems and service providers makes it difficult to remove all mistakes from the process. In periods of an increasing detention population, the scope for mistakes likely increases. The mistake may have come from missed information, poor communication or administrative oversight. There are many potential reasons, all of them likely inadequate to solve future instances of this occurring.

Yet this shouldn’t be an excuse but what is the alternative answer? The end of mandatory detention is not coming anytime soon, despite the lack of evidence to support its fundamental rationale of deterring boat arrivals. It is good the Ombudsman oversees these cases and is reported to regularly. Other than beefing up this oversight, there is seemingly little an outsider can pick apart to say how things could improve.

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