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Red Cross and Federal Government reinforce framework for detention centre visits

Tuesday March 16, 2010

Australian Red Cross' role as an independent humanitarian observer in immigration detention facilities has been reinforced by a new agreement with the Federal Government.

The Memorandum of Understanding formalises arrangements for Red Cross to visit all immigration detention facilities and provides a framework for communication between Red Cross and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).

Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner welcomed the agreement announced with Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans in Canberra today and the official guarantee of access to vulnerable people that it provides.

'Responding to the needs of the most vulnerable and where necessary speaking on their behalf is central to Red Cross' humanitarian mandate both here and around the world,' he said.

'People held in immigration detention, whatever the reason, are in a vulnerable situation and often need special support,' Mr Tickner said. 'This agreement helps us to ensure this support is made available.'

Red Cross has been visiting immigration detention facilities under formal and informal arrangements with federal governments since 1993. Fully funded by Red Cross itself, the immigration detention program was extended to cover Christmas Island at the end of 2008.

Red Cross staff make regular visits to all detention facilities, monitoring the conditions, meeting detainees and assessing if their needs are being met. Any concerns - such as health issues, access to legal advice, or concerns about living standards - are then actively pursued with DIAC and directly with the Minister as necessary.

This independent observer role complements services provided by the Immigration Ombudsman and the Australian Human Rights commission.

Other activities Red Cross carries out in the centres include tracing missing family members, providing detainees with news from home, and facilitating access to services such as counselling. Red Cross plays no part in the visa determination process.

Mr Tickner said that Red Cross' principles of neutrality and impartiality were central to the organisation gaining access to detention facilities in Australia and around the world.

'In order to maintain the confidence of those whose cooperation is essential for us to function, we focus on raising concerns face to face and through confidential communications rather than publicly chiding governments and officials,' Mr Tickner said.

'Where all avenues of quiet diplomacy are exhausted, however, we reserve the right to speak out in the interests of vulnerable people.'

Media contacts:
For media enquiries contact Red Cross media adviser Joe Cropp on 0400 942 861.