Ombudsman highlights excessive use of force in immigration detention

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has made alarming revelations about the increasing use of force and restraints in immigration detention.  

The Ombudsman’s recently released independent oversight report identified an increased tendency for detention centre staff to use force as a first choice rather than a last resort in resolving conflict and managing behaviour. The report suggests that this use of force may be unlawful.

It also raises serious concerns about the regular use of mechanical restraints, such as handcuffs and body restraints, during transfers between facilities and medical appointments, rather than humane and effective alternatives such as specialised escorting practices.

‘The report includes a number of concerning examples of the use of force, including the use of force outside of standard operating procedure, without an apparent legal basis,’ said Jane Leibowitz, who leads PIAC’s Asylum Seeker Health Rights Project.

‘It is unacceptable that we continue to see vulnerable and sick asylum seekers subject to punitive and potentially unlawful practices in our detention centres’.  

Late last year, PIAC filed a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission on behalf of a 43 year old asylum seeker with a history of  torture and trauma, who has been held in immigration detention for 7 years. Despite his experiences, he is routinely required to wear handcuffs when he  sees offsite medical staff. Mental health professionals have repeatedly highlighted the damaging effect that handcuffing has on him and other detained asylum seekers, but the practice continues.

‘The Ombudsman’s critical findings come at a time where, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the immigration detention population continues to rise and many asylum seekers have been detained for indefinite periods. The Commonwealth government must be held accountable for the culture of cruelty we see in our detention network,’ said Jane Leibowitz.

MEDIA CONTACT:  Gemma Pearce, PIAC Media and Communications Manager: 0478 739 280

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