Detainees in 'punishment cell conditions' for quarantine

NSWCCL is increasingly concerned about the impact on detainees in our immigration detention facilities of current quarantine arrangements. In particular, the treatment of people who return to detention centres after medical appointments is unacceptable.

  • They are confined in small rooms for a fortnight.
  • There is nothing in the room except a bed, an open toilet and a wash basin.
  • The windows are tinted, so detainees cannot see out.
  • There is no access to personal possessions.
  • No reading material is available - not even a Bible, Torah or Koran.
  • There's no exercise outside of the room.
  • A change of under clothes may not be available for several days. 
  • There is a buzzer to call for attention, but people may have to wait for a lengthy period for a response. 

The rooms may be called 'high-care accommodation', but these are punishment cell conditions, or worse. If this was happening in another country, we'd arguably call it torture.

It is untenable for people to be held in a small space with zero stimulus for l4 days. This is especially concerning for those whose medical needs were of a psychiatric nature.  

An alarming, but unsurprising consequence of this treatment has been that some detainees are refusing to go to medical appointments.

In April this year the Australian Human Rights Commission issued a report highlighting these concerns. Its recommendations included:

  • Recommendation 13: ‘As a matter of urgency the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force should cease the use of high-care accommodation units for quarantine purposes and use alternative, less restrictive options for quarantine’
  • Recommendation 14: people subject to quarantine arrangements should have access to outdoor areas for exercise and other recreational activities on a daily basis, educational and recreational facilities and materials, essential personal items such as clothing and toiletries and regular monitoring of physical and mental health by health staff
  • Recommendation 15: 'The Australian Border Force and detention service providers should not accommodate people with significant physical and/or mental health conditions, who are subject to 14-day operational quarantine following discharge from hospital, in ‘high-care accommodation’ units.'

Recommendation 13 was rejected out of hand by the Department of Home Affairs, with no explanation. 

On recommendations 14 and 15, the department claimed that ‘while in medical quarantine detainees have access to essential personal items such as clothing and toiletries, their phones and devices, and can request access to a laptop, an online library of books, and activity packs.  There is also regular monitoring of their physical and mental health’.

This was false of Villawood Immigration Detention Centre at the time, and was still false a fortnight ago. We are informed that detainees returning from medical appointments are confined for a fortnight in small rooms, as described above. 

CCL has written to:

  • Commonwealth Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe PSM urging him to renew his concerns, press for changes, and report back to parliament.
  • Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow asking him to make further enquiries and urge changes at Villawood.

  • Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews urging her to:

    • release asylum seekers into the community;

    • grant visas sooner and more readily;

    • cease cancelling visas of convicted persons who have served their time in prison at least in cases where the crimes have not been violent attacks on persons and the person has not been rehabilitated; and

    • use the space made available for more humane arrangements for quarantine.