Detainees are people detained by the government because of some breach of the regulations regarding entry to Australia. In Australia, non-citizens become unlawful because they have tried to enter the country without a visa or travel authority or, having entered legally with a visa, have stayed in Australia past the expiry date of that visa, or they have breached the conditions of the visa.
The word “detainee” is used because the government argues that unlawful non-citizens are not being imprisoned nor being punished for an offence. They are merely being detained until they leave the country voluntarily or are deported. Supporters of mandatory detention argue that people without valid documents may disappear into the community to avoid being forced to leave the country. They also argue that the policy discourages people from attempting unauthorised entry into Australia.
Australia is the only Western country that mandatorily detains asylum seekers whilst their claims are being heard. This includes asylum seekers who may subsequently be granted permanent residence as a refugee. This assessment can take a number of years during which these refugees remain detainees, often in harsh conditions.
10 March 2002