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Govt vows to investigate long-term detainee c -

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Govt vows to investigate long-term detainee cases

The World Today - Thursday, 13 March , 2008 12:26:00

Reporter: Daniel Hoare

ELEANOR HALL: Australia's 61 long-term immigration detainees have been given a lifeline by the
Federal Minister Chris Evans in the form of a guarantee that the Government will examine their
cases within the next month.

But human rights advocates say the Federal Government needs to go further and abolish the Temporary
Protection Visa system altogether.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission says Temporary Protection Visas leave asylum
seekers with an uncertain future.

Daniel Hoare reports.

DANIEL HOARE: It would be an understatement to say the Immigration Department has endured a rocky
road in recent years, with case after case of mistreatment being brought to light.

The latest example of what the Human Rights Commission calls "degrading treatment" involves a
Nigerian man who resorted to drinking his own urine when he was made to sit for seven hours without
water in the back of a van as he was moved from Melbourne to Mildura.

The Immigration Department initially denied the claims, but an investigation by the Commission
found the allegations to be true. The man in question will receive $20,000 compensation from GSL
Australia, the company that runs the nation's detention centres. GSL will also compensate the four
other detainees on board the van that day.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans says he's confident that by the end of April, he will have sorted
through the cases of the 61 immigration detainees who've spent longer than two years in detention.

CHRIS EVANS: You just can't go on leaving people in detention indefinitely, without any attempt to
resolve the cases. So I'm going to be proactive, see if we can't make progress on these long-term
cases rather than just leave them rotting in detention because the answers don't suit the
government of the day.

DANIEL HOARE: The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has discussed Australia's approach
to immigration detention with the Minister and it welcomes his approach.

The Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes says those of the 61 long-term detainees who do end up
in the Australian community will be provided with a network of support.

GRAEME INNES: If they are released into the Australian community, and some will be no doubt, some
will be returned to their own countries, but if they're released into the Australian community,
most people in detention for that length of time will have ongoing health needs and so we'll get
support dependent on the type of visa that they receive or the type of release that they are given.

We'll get support for mental health and other health issues, medical support, either through the
Department of Immigration or through the broader Australian social security system.

DANIEL HOARE: So the Australian Government does have some level of commitment to ongoing support in
that area?

GRAEME INNES: Yes, it has some level of commitment - not absolute commitment, because there are
many people in the Australian community who are asylum seekers or refugees who have Temporary
Protection Visas, some of which don't entitle them to access to the social welfare system, and
people such as that are being supported in the Australian community trough charitable organisations
in various parts of Australia.

DANIEL HOARE: So there's no actual obligation there in a lot of cases?

GRAEME INNES: As I say, it depends on the sort of visa that a person has. But in a lot of cases,
no, there isn't an obligation, and in fact there's a restriction because some people are in the
situation where they're not allowed to work but they're not entitled to social security and social
welfare services. So the only way that they can survive is through charitable handouts.

DANIEL HOARE: For those not on Temporary Protection Visas, do they have some level of legal
recourse? Will they be provided with a lawyer for example, to provide advice?

GRAEME INNES: Well there are legal services available which assist refugees in this situation, yes.

DANIEL HOARE: Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes says the Federal Government should give
serious consideration to abolishing Temporary Protection Visas.

GRAEME INNES: It's a very unfair way to treat people in the sense you put them in limbo. You give
them a Temporary Protection Visa for a couple of years and then review their case again in two
years' time. In the meantime they may well be existing from hand to mouth in the community, not
knowing what their future is going to be. It's a very cruel way that we've treated people over the
last decade or so.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Graeme Innes from the Human Rights Commission ending that report by Daniel
Hoare.