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Immigration detention monitoring

People held in immigration detention are some of the most vulnerable in our society. Many will have experienced torture and trauma in their home countries; many will have endured a difficult migration journey. Many are coping with loss; some will have been separated from family. Most are living with uncertainty about the future.

By definition, people in immigration detention do not have citizenship or a valid visa; this means many of the safeguards and supports available to Australian citizens and residents are not available to them. The Red Cross Immigration Detention Monitoring Program seeks to ensure people's basic and humanitarian needs are met and their dignity is upheld while they remain in detention.

We focus on the conditions of detention and how people are treated in detention. We believe that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect and have their health and wellbeing protected. We believe this regardless of where they came from, how they arrived in Australia or why they are in detention.

What is Immigration Detention?

People are detained in immigration detention in Australia for reasons including that they may have:

  • arrived without a visa,
  • overstayed their visa, or
  • had their visa cancelled.

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention. This means that in most circumstances any person who is not an Australian citizen and does not have a visa is detained in immigration detention while they make arrangements to leave Australia or apply for another visa. This can include people who arrive without a visa, or where their visa has expired or been cancelled.

People subject to mandatory detention are placed in immigration detention facilities. These facilities include immigration detention centres, immigration transit accommodation, and immigration residential housing.

For more information about mandatory detention please refer to the Department of Immigration Fact sheet - Immigration detention.

There is no maximum timeframe for a person to be held in immigration detention in Australia.

How does Red Cross work in Immigration Detention?

Red Cross teams conduct regular and frequent independent monitoring of immigration facilities across Australia. They also support detention visits overseas (see Offshore monitoring). Red Cross is the only humanitarian organisation that visits all detention facilities on a regular basis.

In line with our Fundamental Principles we offer our monitoring services and assistance to all people in detention regardless of the reason for their detention or the way they have arrived in Australia.

Our monitoring teams focus on issues of humanitarian concern. This means that Red Cross observes the conditions and treatment of people in detention to ensure that their health, dignity and wellbeing is being upheld and protected.

Our aim is to reduce harm and increase resilience among people in detention, especially those who are particularly vulnerable.

Our focus is on:

  • providing the authorities with a humanitarian perspective on the impact of immigration detention;
  • access to services within immigration detention;
  • the conditions at immigration detention facilities; and
  • the treatment of people while they are in immigration detention.

Based on our monitoring, we raise any issues of humanitarian concern with the Department of Immigration and the Australian Government. We provide advice on how to minimise harm and we promote respect for humanitarian values.

Because Red Cross is neutral, impartial and independent we do not seek to become involved in partisan politics or public debate. Our dialogue with the public authorities always focusses on the humanitarian needs of people in detention and remains confidential.

Our monitoring work is based on a set of Guiding Principles that outlines Australian Red Cross' humanitarian expectations around immigration detention: Guiding Principles »

Why does Red Cross monitor immigration detention conditions?

In Australia, Red Cross has been monitoring conditions and providing tracing services in immigration detention facilities for more than 20 years.

Red Cross is a respected, experienced and impartial organisation that people in detention can approach about any issues of concern. Many people in detention recognise Red Cross from their home countries and feel safe talking to us.

We work to persuade governments, public authorities and decision makers to act in the interests of vulnerable people in detention, always being mindful of their humanitarian needs.

The way we work in immigration detention is based on the ways of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Globally the ICRC monitors the conditions of people detained as prisoners of war, civilians detained during conflict, and others detained in situations of violence.

Our Fundamental Principle of neutrality means that our workers often have access to places that others can't go.

Read more about the work of the ICRC in Visiting detainees »

Watch the video below to find out more about ICRC detention monitoring in action.

Video: Learn about how Red Cross works to improve immigration detention by following delegates from the International Committee of Red Cross during their visit to Suleymanieh Central Prison in Northern Iraq.

How does Red Cross monitor conditions in immigration detention?

Humanitarian Observers

We have Humanitarian Observers - staff and volunteers - who conduct independent humanitarian monitoring of immigration detention facilities across Australia and support visits overseas (see Offshore monitoring).

Humanitarian Observers assess the general conditions of immigration detention, access to services and the treatment of the people detained.

Humanitarian Observers offer people in detention an opportunity to discuss their situation and concerns with us during private and confidential interviews

"Through Red Cross I can play a small role in providing support to those seeking our security and protection. The Immigration Detention Monitoring Program is a reminder to us all of what we have in common - our humanity."
- volunteer Humanitarian Observer.

Regular visits

Red Cross visits all detention facilities regularly. Based on our monitoring, we raise any issues of humanitarian concern and engage in confidential advocacy with the Department of Immigration and the Australian Government. This advocacy can be in relation to issues at a particular immigration detention facility or issues affecting all Australian facilities.

In order to discuss sensitive issues openly, constructively and consistent with Red Cross' approach to humanitarian diplomacy, our dialogue with people in detention, with service providers and with the authorities is confidential.

The monitoring program is funded by Australian Red Cross and complements monitoring by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the UNHCR.

Offshore monitoring

Australian Red Cross supports the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in its monitoring visits to Offshore Processing Centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. On regular visits, the delegation assesses the conditions of detention and the treatment of people detained within the centre.

As with regular Red Cross ways of working, all on site engagements, reports and related discussions with concerned authorities are confidential.

The program also works with the Red Cross International Tracing Service to help people in detention facilities to re-establish contact with their loved ones.

Want more information?

  • You can contact the Immigration Detention Monitoring team by email.
  • Learn more about Red Cross work with asylum seekers, refugees and migrants.
  • Contact Red Cross offices in your State or Territory.

The Department of Immigration publishes regular statistics on the number of people in immigration detention. For more information visit Immigration detention statistics on the Department of Immigration website.