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Govt Denies Data on Refugees With Disabilities

14 December 2016 at 4:19 pm
Lina Caneva
The federal government has denied it has any data on how many people with physical or mental disabilities are being held in offshore or onshore immigration detention centres despite having previously released figures.

Lina Caneva | 14 December 2016 at 4:19 pm


Govt Denies Data on Refugees With Disabilities
14 December 2016 at 4:19 pm

The federal government has denied it has any data on how many people with physical or mental disabilities are being held in offshore or onshore immigration detention centres despite having previously released figures.

The denial came in reply to a parliamentary question on notice to Senate Estimate committee hearings in October on immigration and border protection from the Australian Greens asking what the current number of people with disability in immigration detention (both onshore and offshore) was.

The question from WA Senator Rachel Siewert (on behalf of disability peak bodies) also asked what method was being used to gather data, whether the data included psychosocial disability and mental health issues related to trauma, what disability inclusion policies/practices were being used by Broadspectrum to accommodate people with disability and how much funding was going towards disability supports for people with disability in offshore detention.

Siewert said her office received a brief response to the questions on Wednesday which said: “The department does not record data in a format to identify numbers of those people in immigration detention with disability.”

She described the admission as “atrocious”.

“To be unable to identify the number of people with disability in offshore and onshore detention is deeply concerning and no doubt means there are people with disability being detained who are not receiving necessary care,” Siewert said.

“We really do not need any more evidence as to why detention centres are inhumane and cruel yet we have this distressing information from the immigration department that further shows how atrocious the government’s approach is.”

Siewert urged the federal government to identify people with disability and to offer appropriate care.

However disability peak body, the National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA) said the department’s response was “rather bizarre” give the government had produced figures in 2014/15 showing that as many as 268 people in onshore detention had disabilities and another 114 on Manus Island and Nauru also had disabilities.

NEDA said the information was released in a public document at the time.

Detention figures

NEDA president Suresh Rajan told Pro Bono Australia News that while the government identified detainees with a variety of physical disabilities it did not identify any mental health issues.

“We don’t care what format the data comes in, we just want the numbers and why is it a year ago they were able to give us that specific data, including that there were 29 children [with disability], and now a year later they are saying they don’t have the data,” Rajan said.

He said the government doesn’t want Australians to personalise these numbers.

“They just want this amorphous mass of asylum seekers… once you label them as people with disabilities all of a sudden you have made that a personal thing and we know it is a human being behind that [number],” he said.

“I can understand that there might have been no increase in the numbers in the last 12 months because there has been no boats and clearly the numbers would not have changed significantly.

“We urge the minister Mr Dutton to step in and make the latest data available.”

The Refugee Council of Australia acting CEO Tim O’Connor said: “It’s extremely disturbing that our government has taken no action to assist those living with a disability, trapped in Australia’s immigration detention system. The government has been made aware of these problems as far back as 2015 when they reported on the issue in Senate Estimates.

“Currently we have around one in five people in our community who live with a disability and one would expect the numbers in immigration detention to be similar.

“This would mean hundreds of people are being kept in indefinite, non-appealable detention, although they have committed no crime and with no appropriate support. It’s another black mark on Australia’s brutal approach towards people seeking asylum and more ammunition for the growing campaign against Australia’s seat on the Human Rights Council.”

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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