Report from one of the BMRSG visitors after a visit on Wednesday 24 January 2017.

“I have been at Villawood today and there has been a hunger strike in Blaxland and Mackenzie compounds but only the 501’s have been striking because they have some legal rights and the asylum seeker detainees don’t. They are fearful of being summarily deported or sent to Christmas Island.

The Asylum seekers I talked to said that as far as they knew the strike finished on Monday. Strikers were denied visitors and the two compounds while not exactly in “Lock down” had rules very strictly enforced.

Everyone is upset about the authoritarian and rigid rules about visitors, no games allowed in, no cooked food 7 days notice for visitors and only one detainee per visitor plus random strip searchers after meeting a visitor. Only 3 of our detainees came out to visit with us this week out of 6 but we did invent some fun games and had a good time, Very few families came into the compounds this week as the processes and forms are complex and hard for people for whom English is a second language.”

The only article in the media on the changes was in Crikey January 17 by Rebekah Holt
Latest changes to detention centre protocols provoke hunger strikes, heartache However this article is behind a paywall.

Background Information

In Villawood IDC there are 416 men, 49 women and no children.
Immigration Detention and Community Statistics Summary 30 November 2017

The above Summary does not give any breakdown on the reasons people are detained. However the
Australian Human Rights Commission Inspection of Villawood Immigration Detention Centre: Report 10 –12 APRIL 2017 states
“At the time of the Commission’s inspection, there were 450 people detained at the VIDC. This included 405 men and 45 women.
Around 40 per cent of these people had been detained as a result of having their visas cancelled under section 501 of
the Migration Act; around 30 per cent had been detained due to non-compliance with visa conditions; and around 20 per cent had arrived in Australia by boat to seek asylum.
The detention population included people of over 60 nationalities, with the top country of origin being New Zealand.”

Restrictions on visitors.

While the updated Department of Homelalnd Affairs website frequently uses the word ‘welcome’ and promises “to make the process simple, efficient and stress-free.” The reality is very different, with more paperwork, more restrictions on the number of visitors, on how many asylum seekers they can visit etc. and random strip searches of asylum seekers.
Rebekah Holt who wrote the Crikey article says
“Visitors will now require 100 points of ID and must have one approved form of ID with a colour photo. This isn’t as simple as it sounds if you are from a country that issues passports with black and white photos (like New Zealand) or you don’t have a drivers licence.
The other significant change is a new rule that there can only be one visitor to one detainee during a visit. This makes it difficult for families to visit and for someone like myself who would see four or five detainees in one visit.
Visiting more than one detainee means you can play a game of cards, have a chat, eat whatever crap food you are now allowed to bring in and generally be civilised for a few hours. This change is the one the detainees really object to, as it isolates them even further, forcing a high security prison condition onto a group of people who are refugees, rather than people serving a criminal sentence.”
Visiting an immigration detention facility

Who are detained under section 501 of the Migration Act?

“Under section 501 (and/or sections 501A and 501B)[1] of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) (Migration Act), a non-citizen’s application for a visa may be refused or their visa may be cancelled if they do not satisfy the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (the Minister), or the Minister’s delegate, that they pass the ‘character test’.

Visa refusal or cancellation can have serious consequences for a person, including placement in immigration detention for lengthy periods of time, separation from family and friends, removal and effective exclusion from Australia.”

For more information Background paper: Human rights issues raised by visa refusal or cancellation under section 501 of the Migration Act June 2013

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