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Comcare must hold Home Affairs to account over refugee cruelty

Home Affairs’ cruelty to refugees ‘unchecked by workplace regulator’? – advocates

Media Release 28/09/2021

The Department of Home Affairs, already facing Work Health and Safety Act charges alleging health neglect of a man who later suicided at Sydney’s Villawood immigration detention centre, is reportedly neglecting another Villawood detainee. The Act’s regulator, Comcare, is supposed to “monitor and enforce compliance with this Act” (s152(b)). Refugee advocate groups ask, “Is Comcare doing its job?”

The Refugee Action Coalition Sydney (RAC) and Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) (RAC (Vic)) today condemned the apparently ongoing and unchecked cruelty of Home Affairs towards people held in immigration detention facilities (IDFs) and called on Comcare to ‘lift its game’. RAC and RAC (Vic) are community-based campaigners for refugee rights. Their email lists run to several thousand each.

RAC spokesperson Ian Rintoul said: “We are not alone in alleging detainee mistreatment. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s report, ‘Use of force in immigration detention (2019_aushrc_130.pdf below), was a response to complaints of detention centre cruelty. And, as Amnesty International Australia’s National Director, Samantha Klintworth, commented on 8 July this year, following the UN Human Rights Council’s review of Australia’s detention regime:

The Australian Government’s decision to ignore key recommendations from UN member states … is extremely disappointing. … 47 wanted Australia to stop offshore processing and mandatory detention of asylum seekers and refugees. … Australia must end [the] indefinite detention of refugees and people seeking asylum, and offer protection in line with its international human rights obligations … .

“Within this regime”, Rintoul added, “cruelty to individuals continues. As Sarah Price reported in The Saturday Paper of 18 September this year (20210918_SaturdayPaper.pdf below), asylum seeker Imasi Yousef, a close contact of a COVID-positive guard at Villawood, was being isolated ‘in a high-security cell … [with] no window. The lights … cannot be dimmed or turned off. For the first time …, Imasi has been given a mask. [Imasi said the cell is] where they send troublemakers … It is designed for torture … not for quarantine … I am going crazy here …’.”

“Imasi is stateless and has been detained for nearly 12 years, with no end in sight”, Rintoul said, adding that, “Stateless people have no country to be deported to, and so, according to Australia’s High Court, if they’re found not to be refugees, they can be lawfully detained indefinitely, for life.”

RAC (Vic) member and retired ex-WorkSafe Victoria solicitor Max Costello says, “Blatant disregard for a detainee’s mental or physical health is a criminal offence under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) (WHS Act), which applies to all Commonwealth government workplaces, including IDFs.”

“On 3 March this year”, adds Costello, “the Department of Home Affairs (which operates all IDFs) and the Morrison government’s contracted health provider were both charged with two WHS Act offences each, alleging serious health neglect of a Villawood detainee who took his own life (in 2019). The charges were based on a brief of evidence prepared by Comcare inspectors.” WHS charges over detention centre death (Media release).

“Yet six months later,” says Ian Rintoul, “the mental health of another Villawood detainee (Imasi) is being put at serious risk. Apparently, Home Affairs would rather be cruel than law-abiding.”

Rintoul and Costello concluded: “Comcare inspectors must now probe for ‘isolation torture’ and other Act-breaching practices across the IDF network (such as leaving people COVID-unvaccinated), and issue compliance-compelling notices. If they later gather probative evidence of persistent non-compliance, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions can lay more WHS Act charges”.

For comment contact: Max Costello 0425 701 690; Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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