Australian Human Rights Commissioner slams country’s detention centres as becoming ‘like prisons’

Australia’s Human Rights Commission says the country’s detention centres are becoming more like prisons and conditions are getting worse.

Edward Santow, the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, said there are concerns about the detention centres.

“Australia’s immigration detention centres have become more and more like prisons. They’re much more restrictive, much harsher and we’re concerned about the human rights implications of that,” he said.

But detainees at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centres say in one way, it’s worse than jail.

“People that go to prison, they get a time they’ve gotta serve, and at the end, they get released. But in here, there’s no time,” said Helder Carrascalao.

There are 142 New Zealanders being held in Australia appealing deportation, including a 21-year-old Kiwi who fears if he’s named, it will hurt his case.

“I feel I’ve missed out all my prime years,” he said.

A federal court found he’d be unsafe in New Zealand. But as he waits for a hearing he’s still in detention – where he’s been for the past 18 months.

“It’s designed for us to fail so we just give up and say ‘this is too long’, so we just sign and go back home.”

In some shared cells in Melbourne, the toilet is also a sink. While there are also allegations of excessive use of force by guards.

The average stay in detention is 500 days compared to less than two months in Canada and the United Kingdom.

“Our concern is with Australia detaining people for much longer than other liberal democracies we’re not in compliance with that law,” said Santow.

The commission believes there is an alternative – releasing those appealing against deportation into community detention instead.

“I think the Human Rights Commission is absolutely 100 percent spot on. These people don’t need to be placed in detention for Australia to go through the immigration process with them,” said Filipa Payne from group Iwi n Aus.

But at least in the short term, there’s very little change expected to occur behind the detention centre fences.

The Human Rights Commission made 34 recommendations to Australia’s Department of Home Affairs. Almost all were rejected or ignored.