The current conditions of Australia’s detention centre, both on an off-shore, have attracted serious concerns regarding the breach of basic human rights on several levels [1,2].

  • There have been many reports detailing the physical, sexual and verbal abuse and a myriad of psychiatric problems witnessed in these centre [1,3].
  • These reports have concluded with a call for the improvement of living conditions for all detainees, better access to health care and for children and vulnerable people to be removed from detention [1,2,3].
  • The Australian Human Rights commission have expressed deep concern and frustration in their reports over the past 10 years, with no evidence of improvement in living conditions [1,2,3,4].

Up to 97% of boat arrivals are found to be genuine refugees by the Australian Government [11].

  • They are subsequently granted protection visas [5]
  • This makes the punitive policies aimed to deter disingenuous migrants from travelling on boats completely irrelevant

The Human Rights Commission has repeatedly expressed concerns that Australia is not fulfilling its obligations under the Refugee Convention and is jeopardising fundamental human rights [6].

  • The very policy of mandatory and indefinite detention breaches Australia’s obligation to ensure that no person is arbitrarily detained [6]
  • Under the CDC, Australia agreed to only detain a child as a measure of last resort. Australia has breached this with a policy of detaining all children, with not alternative pathway offered.[6]
  • Article 31 of the Refugee Convention prohibits state parties from penalising asylum seekers on account of their unlawful entry where they are coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened [6]. Australia’s differential treatment of asylum seekers based on their place and method of arrival arguably breaches this obligation, as well as the right to equality and non-discrimination in article 26 of the ICCPR [6].

Under the United Nations Refugee convention that Australia signed, we are obliged to provide the same standard of health care to detainees as is available to the general population, which evidence has shown us is not the case [7,8].


Aside from the numerous ethical concerns, the cost of the mandatory detention is impractically high, making it an unsustainable and ineffective solution to irregular migration [1].

It costs over $500 000 per year to detain one asylum seeker on Manus Island, totalling over $1 billion of the Governments budget [10].

The conservative estimate of the medical cost of treating mental illness provoked by prolonged detention is on average $25000 per person [12].


Despite the current research detailing the contrary, administrators and politicians have disputed the assertion that detention was a factor in causing or exacerbating mental disorders [5,9]. This further compounds psychiatric distress in refugees and asylum seekers, as their mental illness is undermined by accusations that it is simulated to gain release [5].

The Australian Government continues to disregard the concerns outlined in the detailed reports from the Australian Human Rights Commission, insisting that Australia’s current policy is not in breach of it’s international obligations [5,13].


Next: AFRAM’s Suggestions  
  1. Phillips J & Spinks H. Immigration detention in Australia. Parliamentary Library. 2013. Available from: Parliamentary Library
  2. A last resort?: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention Report [Internet]. Sydney: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; 2004. Available from:
  3. Those who’ve come across the seas: Detention of unauthorised arrivals Report [Internet].Sydney: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; 1998. Available from:
  4. Fact Sheet: Regional Resettlement Arrangements [Internet]. Australian Government; 2013. Available from:
  5. Newman L. Seeking Asylum—Trauma, Mental Health, and Human Rights: An Australian Perspective. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation [Internet]. 2013;14(2):213-223
  6. Immigration detention and offshore processing on Christmas Island Report [Internet]. Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission; 2009. Available from:
  7. Green, J. P., & Eagar, K. (2010). The health of people in Australian immigration detention centres. Medical Journal of Australia, 192(2), 65–70.
  8. Triggs G. Mental Health and Immigration Detention. The Medical Journal of Australia [Internet]. 2013;199(11):721-722. Available from:
  9. Silove D, Austin P, Steel Z. No Refuge from Terror: The Impact of Detention on the Mental Health of Trauma-affected Refugees Seeking Asylum in Australia . Transcultural Psychiatry [Internet]. 2007;44(3):359-393. Available from:SAGE Journals
  10. This is Breaking People: Human rights violations at Australia’s Asylum Seeker processing centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea [Internet]. NSW: Amnesty International Australia; 2013. Available from:
  11. Phillips J. Fact Sheet: Asylum Seekers and Refugees: What are the Facts [Internet]. Canberra: Parliament of Australia; 2013. Available from:
  12. T Ward, Long-term health costs of extended mandatory detention of asylum seekers. (2011). Available from: