Detention Issues/Christmas Island
JRS and detention issues in Australia and around the world
Detention issues have been one of the major concerns of JRS for many years, not only in Australia but around the world.
For almost 25 years JRS has been serving, accompanying, and defending the rights of, refugees held in detention. JRS staff around the world - in Europe, the US, South Asia, Asia Pacific, Southern Africa, Eastern Africa and in the Caribbean - visit people in detention who have not been charged with, or convicted of, any crime. These people have been deprived of their liberty simply for entering or remaining in a country or moving without authorisation. JRS is concerned about the inadequate conditions in which refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are being held in detention and about their lack of access to proper procedures.
JRS is aware that detention is increasingly being used - inappropriately and in violation of international human rights law - to deter the arrival of refugees and to persuade them to leave. Therefore, JRS decided to work together with other non-governmental organisations concerned about this issue to develop the international coalition on the detention of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, which was launched worldwide on 20 June 2006.
This coalition was set up to raise awareness of governments' detention policies and practices and to promote greater protection and respect for the human rights of detainees. It continues to advocate limiting the use of, seeking alternatives to, and using the least restrictive forms of, immigration detention.
In Australia, JRS has been a regular visitor for the past eight years to the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, in particular to Stage 1 where we continue to host one of two regular weekly religious services. We also offer pastoral visits on request or referral to detainees with protection and related claims in Stages 2 and 3. On occasions, this has led to an ongoing relationship post-detention with assistance offered to people in need of accommodation, material aid and help in integrating into the community.
Recently we also started weekly pastoral visits with volunteers to the Immigration Residential Housing, which is located within the Villawood complex. JRS and its team of volunteers tries to promote courage, peace and hope for detainees, attempting to break the cycle of boredom in the daily routine of their lives inside a detention facility.
JRS is also actively involved in supporting initiatives and efforts for lasting policy changes (the link here would take them to our Submission to the Inquiry into Immigration Detention in Australia) by both national asylum seeker agencies and the International Detention Coalition.
Due to recent events involving the arrival of boats carrying asylum seekers to Australian chores and the use of Christmas Island as a detention and processing facility, JRS has begun to explore avenues of involvement there. An initial assessment visit in early October 2009 highlighted the great need for religious services as well as pastoral accompaniment and services for detainees in the three detention facilities. JRS hopes to collaborate with other agencies in providing an ongoing pastoral presence in the island.
Detention news around Australia
Reflections from Christmas Island
Fr Chris Jenkins SJ
My immediate memories of Christmas Island are of the rain, the humidity, the jungle, the crabs, the roads, the birds, the beauty of the place – powerful, abiding memories and images of an environment so different to the Clare Valley in South Austrlia, where I had lived for the past five years. But I am sure that it will be the people and their stories that I remember best in the future. Read more...
Sr Lizzie Finnerty RSM
This year I spent a short six weeks on Christmas Island. It was an experience that will live with me for a life time. I have been reflecting on why this is, as I have been to more challenging places, both physically and psychologically. The more I ponder the question, the stronger I feel that it is because the suffering experienced on Christmas Island is exacerbated by the treatment of Australians. Read more...
In their shoes
How would you feel if a bomb exploded in your home and you found two of your children dead among the rubble? How would you feel if you saw your father drown in front of your very eyes and there was nothing you could do to save him? How would you feel if you had to spend six months caged in a small cell for having committed no other crime other than trying to save your life and find freedom? Fr Sacha Bermudez-Goldman, Director of JRS, writes about the people he has met in the course of his work, and why Australians should welcome them into this country. Read more...
Australian Government assistance to refugees: fact v fiction
The Australian government's Department of Parliamentary Services has released a document officially detailing the assistance that is available to refugees and asylum seekers. This follows the circulation of incorrect information claiming, among other things, that refugees in Australia receive higher social security benefits than age pensioners. The document also destails Australia's refugee and humanitarian program. Download the document here.
New Directions in Detention
In July 2008 the Australian government announced comprehensive reforms to its detention policy. The new model aims to limit detention in immigration detention centres to cases of last resort, and for the shortest practicable time.
The human faces of Christmas Island
The Director of JRS Australia, Fr Sacha Bermudez-Goldman SJ, has urged the Australian public to place itself in the shoes off asylum seekers and try to imagine and understand their plight, as 78 Sri Lankan languish onboard an Australian customs ship, the Oceanic Viking. Read more.....
Sr Maureen Lohrey RSM spent two months working among asylum seekers on Christmas Island. Her full account can be read here...
Detention news around the world
JRS Europe has launched its new research project, The DEVAS Project, which investigates detention conditions on the continent.
A report by the children's commissioner for England in released in April 2009, 2,000 children are held in detention centres in the UK each year for stays averaging 15 days. The report made 42 recommendations that would truly make the detention of children a 'last resort'. Sir Al Aynsley-Green, JRS Europe Policy and Advocacy Officer Philip Amaral spoke with the BBC Europe Today program about the British government's stance on the detention of children.