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Bill would cut vital lifeline for most disadvantaged

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South Australian refugee advocates have raised concerns about a Commonwealth Bill that would allow the Government to prohibit detainees from having the means to effectively communicate with family and legal representatives.

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While the Bill will allow for a broad range of items to be prohibited in detention centres, much of the discussion around the Bill centres on the intended prohibition of mobile phones.

The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 has passed the House of Representatives and was expected to come before the Senate in coming weeks.

Rev Sandy Boyce

Rev Sandy Boyce, chair of Justice for Refugees SA, said the proposed mobile phone ban would reduce detainees’ access to family members, particularly children, at a time in which the COVID-19 pandemic meant no-one is able to visit the immigration detention centres.

“Mobile phone contact is also a vital lifeline for detainees to be in contact with legal representatives and migration lawyers. Without it they cannot exercise their right to get timely confidential legal advice,” Rev Boyce said.

In June 2018, the Federal Court ruled that the Migration Act did not provide any power for the Commonwealth to implement a blanket prohibition on mobile phones in immigration detention, leading the Government to halt its first attempt to legislate a ban. That Bill was strongly opposed by refugee advocates, human rights groups and legal organisations.

The current Bill is structured to give the Minister for Immigration discretion to prohibit and seize mobile phone and SIM cards, computers and other electronic devices designed to be capable of being connected to the internet, on the basis that these might be a risk to the health, safety or security of persons in the facility, or to the order of the facility. Critics point out that existing provisions of the Migration Act sufficiently allow for examination, search, detention and identification powers to address these risks.

Rev Boyce said refugees and people seeking asylum were not criminals and should not be treated as such. “Detention centres are not and should not become prisons,” she said.

“There are already laws in place to bring people to account if there is illegal activity.

“The police already have the power to search facilities. Why then do we have this Bill before us? Why are we penalising disadvantaged and desperate people even further? The Bill increases the capacity of the Government to withdraw items that are essential for people to contact families and lawyers.”

Justice for Refugees SA is concerned the Bill will create more anxiety for people in detention and their families, and places people at greater risk of mental health issues.

Senator Jacqui Lambie is seeking public feedback as to how to vote on the Bill, and people are encouraged to fill out her online form www.senatorlambie.com.au/advise_jacqui.

People are also encouraged to contact other Senators, and especially Senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff who have indicated they will oppose the Bill when it reaches the Senate.

Contact details: Senator Rex Patrick (SA): senator.patrick@aph.gov.au; Senator Stirling Griff: senator.griff@aph.gov.au; Senator Jacqui Lambie: senator.lambie@aph.gov.au.

Justice for Refugees SA:  www.justiceforrefugeessa.org or info@justiceforrefugeessa.org

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