Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has introduced legislation giving him powers to ban phones and other items he deems to be a “risk” in detention centres. This follows a court ruling in February which blocked detention centre guards from confiscating phones from detainees.
Dutton claimed that phones were being used to facilitate criminal activity within the centres, including crimes like drug distribution, arranging escapes, and even planning of contract killings. Currently, almost half the detention population is made up of non-citizens who have had their visas cancelled, according to the minister. Most illegal immigrants come to Australia hoping to obtain a work visa and eventually settle in the country on a permanent resident visa.
“These criminals often have severe behavioural issues and pose a critical threat to the health, safety, security and good order of the detention network,” he said while introducing the draft bill which will allow his office to determine what fits the description of a “prohibited thing” inside detention centres.
Concerned that current arrangements are not enough to deal with the increased risk of contraband, Mr Dutton is seeking more powers for immigration officers and “assistants” to conduct more warrantless searches, and a green light to use detection dogs when screening detainees and visitors.
Apart from illegal items like narcotics, the other items that could be banned range from phones, sim cards and electronic devices to healthcare products and publications that can be used to incite violence or hatred.
However, some people like human rights lawyer and principal solicitor for the National Justice Project, George Newhouse, are concerned that the new law will affect other asylum seekers such as children, held in detention. He reads sinister motives in the move to allow the use of detector dogs for screening and increasing the powers of immigration officers to search rooms and the belongings of detainees without a warrant, describing it as “all part of the minister’s continuing policy of criminalising asylum seekers”.
But asylum seekers contacted by the press on their part say that phones are hardly ever used for anything other than talking to family, advocates and lawyers. They feel that searches in detention centres leave detainees feeling dehumanised.
However, the government in an explanatory note in the draft bill says people will still be able to get in touch with their families through landlines, fax and controlled internet access.
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