Australia's immigration system is one still rooted in fear and uncertainty for many, which is why an outcry has erupted following news a proposed new bill is being considered by parliament this week, which could see mobile phones confiscated from immigration detainees.
Under proposed changes to the Migration Act, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge would be allowed to declare certain personal items, including mobile phones and sim cards, "prohibited items." A terrifying consideration, given many use their devices as a lifeline and, often only connection, to the outside world.
It would also grant staff new powers to search detainees without a warrant and allow strip searches and detector dogs within the centres.
At the moment, there are approximately 1,450 people detained in immigration detention centres across Australia. With those who are 'stateless', and not belonging to any nation, enduring indefinite stays. Over the years, conditions at these centres have worsened, becoming more like prisons, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Craig Foster, an asylum seeker advocate, has launched a renewed campaign against the proposed changes. "Sadly, there are moves to take mobile phones away from innocent refugees in Aust detention, who’ve wasted away for more than 7yrs," he wrote. "Many are my friends. Their phone, like yours or mine, is their lifeline to support, legal counsel, the outside world. It’s not right
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Immigration detention centres around Australia have been closed since March due to the ongoing pandemic, which means mobile phones have been the only way detainees have been able to connect with their loved ones, as well as offering a way for incidents and conditions to be recorded.
AHRC caseworker Nina Field told SBS News, "This move to remove mobile phones is about silencing people."
The government claims, however, some detainees are using mobile phones to organise criminal activities, but per The Conversation, a 2019 report by the Australian Human Rights Commission found only a minority of detainees used mobile phones inappropriately.