The Australian Human Rights Commission Friday urged the government to stop locking up asylum seekers on remote Christmas Island, its main detention centre, saying it was overcrowded and inadequate.
Thousands of boatpeople have been brought to the small Indian Ocean island this year, forcing some to sleep in tents and spreading resources more thinly, the Australian Human Rights Commission said.
“The substantial increase in the number of people in detention has led to overcrowding,” the commission said in its annual report on the facility, which lies some 2,600 kilometres (1,610 miles) northwest of Perth.
“There has been a significant deterioration in living conditions for many people, particularly those accommodated in tents and dormitory bedrooms.”
The commission said while improvements had been made since 2009, some inmates were harming themselves, mental health services were limited and children were still being kept on the island.
It said the government’s decision to suspend processing claims from Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers for some months in 2010 had led to the prolonged detention of many people, including children.
“More people are being held in immigration detention on Christmas Island for longer periods of time. There continues to be no set time limit on the period a person may be detained,” the report said.
Human Rights Commissioner Catherine Branson said there were about 2,500 people detained on Christmas Island, including families with children, and some were held there for more than a year.
“We have real concerns about this. It is well known that detaining people for long and indefinite periods can have serious impacts on their mental health,” Branson said.
Australia adopted mandatory detention laws in 1992 and the commission, and other rights bodies such as Amnesty International, have long criticised the system, saying it breaches fundamental human rights.
The commission is a government body that advises on the application of federal legislation in the area of human rights, anti-discrimination, social justice and privacy.
It welcomed the government’s decision earlier this month to begin moving families and unaccompanied minors out of detention facilities and into community-based accommodation.
The immigration department said all people in its care were treated fairly and humanely and that claims for asylum were assessed as quickly as possible.
Read the report here