Four people died and self-harm incidents rose in immigration detention last year

The figures are contained in the most recent Department of Home Affairs annual report.

There were more people detained in immigration detention facilities on average in 2020-21 compared to the previous year.

There were more people detained in immigration detention facilities on average in 2020-21 compared to the previous year. Source: Getty

The number of self-harm incidents in Australia’s immigration detention centres increased over the course of 2020-21, while four people died while being held, new figures have revealed.

The average number of people detained on a single day this past year has also risen to 1,514, a seven per cent increase compared to the average of 1,414 in 2019–20, according to the Department of Home Affairs' most recent annual report.

There were 195 instances of actual self-harm in immigration detention in the 2020-21 financial year, compared to 185 over the previous 12 months, the Department’s report shows.

There were four deaths in immigration detention, up from the previous financial year, when one death was recorded.

Instances of reported “major disturbances” in immigration detention also increased to 22 cases from the previous year’s ten.

But the number of reported sexual assaults in immigration detention decreased, from 54 instances in 2019–20 to 34.

There were also four escapes from detention centres. One of them escaped from a Brisbane facility and returned the same day, while another two fled from facilities in Melbourne and Adelaide.

Another who fled the Villawood detention centre in Sydney while attending a medical appointment offsite was charged with various offences and returned to the facility.

The Department said these figures of "significant incidents" may have been impacted by the suspension or reduction of various programs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including detainee visits and programs and activities, and facility room search operations.

“The suspension of programs and activities removed incentive-based participation programs intended to promote positive engagement and behaviour by detainees, which may have impacted the number of incidents that occurred,” the report said.

Most of the 1,492 people in immigration detention facilities - around 83 per cent - have a criminal history, the Department said.

“This cohort has resulted in the creation of a criminal and prison-like culture characterised by increased attempts to smuggle contraband into facilities (including illicit drugs) via varying methods, standover tactics and associated assaults."

The number of refugee and humanitarian visas granted by the Department was 5,947, less than 50 per cent of the annual cap of 13,750 places.

There was also a 37.5 per cent reduction in the population of people in offshore detention.

As of 30 June 2021, the combined regional processing population in Nauru and Papua New Guinea was 233, down from 373 a year earlier.

Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at . supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.  

3 min read
Published 22 October 2021 at 2:07pm
By Rashida Yosufzai
Source: SBS News