Border Force says detention of refugees in Brisbane hotel 'appropriate'

ABF says accommodation decisions are made ‘on a case-by-case basis’

The Australian Border Force has defended its detention of refugees for extended periods in a Brisbane hotel as “appropriate”, despite the government claiming earlier this year that such conditions were intended only for short-term and transit housing.

Guardian Australia reported on Sunday that a cohort of refugees has been kept in the hotel, in dirty rooms and under heavy guard, for up to six months.

Uncertainty remains about the long-term status of refugees in the hotel and several hundred others, who have been transferred to Australia for medical treatment. Most have no visa status in Australia and remain in the custody of the ABF. The former Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps has told Guardian Australia an independent inquiry or review is now needed to break “a really horrible impasse”.

Refugees have been kept in the hotel, in dirty rooms and under heavy guard, for up to six months
Refugees have been kept in the hotel, in dirty rooms and under heavy guard, for up to six months. Photograph: Supplied

The ABF said on Tuesday evening, more than six days after being first approached for comment about the conditions of refugees on medical transfers, that accommodation decisions were made “on a case-by-case basis”.

“Where appropriate these immigration detainees may be placed in serviced apartment-style accommodation (alternative places of detention or APODs) rather than inside an immigration detention facility. Appropriate monitoring and security arrangements are in place, which may include security officers.”

In May, the Australian Human Rights commission raised concern about the use of APODs, particularly hotels that lacked features such as exercise and recreation areas “necessary to ensure adequate conditions”.

The commission’s report said this may “have a negative impact on access to services and general wellbeing” and made recommendations, including that hotels only be used “in exceptional circumstances and for very short periods of time”.

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In its formal response to those recommendations, Home Affairs said APODs were used “as transit accommodation” and generally used for detainees for short periods.

According to records seen by Guardian Australia, refugees in Australia on medical transfers have been detained in the hotel permanently for several months, including some who arrived late last year.

There is a significant contingent of refugees who have been brought to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru for medical reasons, and many have been granted “residence determinations” that allow them to live in the community while technically remaining in detention.

Those determinations can only be made by the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton.

Phelps said the situation highlighted the lack of a resettlement plan for people who have been brought to Australia on medical transfers, as well as those who remain in offshore detention.

“What this gets back to is that we have a system of offshore processing which never had a resettlement process,” Phelps said. “The problem goes right back to the beginning where we decided to detain people offshore without any plan of what happened there.

“People remain in limbo, there’s no plan for their future. It’s time for an independent review to make a plan for a way forward, and I would call on the prime minister and the foreign minister to take leadership on this and to find a humane solution which should have been done years ago. We need to move forward now.

“The medevac law was a move to finding a humane solution but it’s not the end of the story, it’s not the whole solution. We need to have an independent review looking at the fate of the kids who came off Nauru and Manus and what the settlement plan is for those families.”


Ben Smee in Brisbane

The GuardianTramp

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