Quick Facts

Number of Immigration Detention Sites: 9 (2008)

Detention Capacity: 2,380 (2008)

Annual Number of Deportations:
6,768 (2007)

Undocumented Population:
46,500 (as of June 2007)

Number of asylum seekers:
1,516 (end of 2007)



Last updated: July 2008

Australia Detention Profile

Detention Infrastructure

As of November 2008, the government of Australia maintained nine secure detention sites, including five Immigration Detention Centres (IDCs) (for complete list of facilities, see “List of Detention Sites”). Global Solutions Limited Australia (GSL Australia), a private contractor, manages the operations of immigration detention centres and residential housing on behalf of the Australian government.


Detention facilities include Villawood IDC, Northern IDC (Darwin), Maribyrnong IDC, Perth IDC, Christmas Island IDC, Sydney Immigration Residential Housing, Perth Immigration Residential Housing, Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (ITA), and Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (DIAC 2008c). The IDCs are used to accommodate a range of unlawful non-citizens, including people who have overstayed their visas, people in breach of their visa conditions, or people who were refused entry at Australia’s international airports (DIAC 2008c); ITAs house people in short-term detention before they are transferred to long-term centres or returned home, and provide temporary accommodation for people who are considered a low security risk; Immigration Residential Housing is meant to provide a flexible detention arrangement to enable people in immigration detention to live in family-style accommodation (DIAC 2008c; HREOC 2007).


In addition to secure sites, Australia maintains two “alternative” detention programs: a ”Community Detention” program, which does not require that detainees be accompanied by a designated person when they leave their residence; and an “Alternative Temporary Detention in Community” program, which does require that detainees be accompanied by a designated person at all times. Alternative Temporary Detention sites include private houses, correctional facilities, watch houses, hotels, apartments, foster care, and hospitals (DIAC 2008c).


A number of immigration detention centres that had been the subject of intense criticism were closed in recent years, including Baxter Immigration Detention Centre (closed August 2007) and the two offshore processing detention centres—in Papua New Guinea (closed December 2007) and Nauru (closed February 2008) (The Age 2007). Other immigration detention centres that were closed between 2002 and 2004 include: Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre (closed December 2003); Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre (closed April 2003); Curtin Temporary Immigration Reception and Processing Centre (closed September 2002); Singleton Contingency Processing Centre; and Port Hedland Residential Housing Project (closed 2004) (DIAC 2007; HREOC 2004).


The Global Detention Project has also identified eight other sites where immigrants have been detained at some point during the past eight years. These include Arthur Gorrie Prison, Port Phillip Prison, Port August Prison, Casuarina Prison, and Broome Regional Prison (Commonwealth Ombudsman 2001; HREOC 2004); The Glenside Mental Health Facility and the Royal Darwin Hospital (HREOC 2007); and the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre (Palmer 2005). The Global Detention Project has not found any evidence suggesting that these places are still used for migrant detention.


Detention Facility Details


The Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre was opened in 2001 to provide accommodation for a surge in unauthorized boat arrivals. A new facility was still under construction as of early 2008 to replace the temporary facility at Phosphate Hill. The existing centre can accommodate 104 residents (nominal capacity) and has a capacity for a further 104 residents (surge capacity) (DIAC 2008c). The Australian Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), an advocacy group, has raised concerns over the new facility on Christmas Island, which the group claims closely resembles an offshore prison and will cost taxpayers more than $500 million to construct. The facility reportedly has electric fences, movement detectors, and cameras on roofs and in every room. Detainees will reportedly wear electronic ID tags that track their whereabouts at all times. There is a hospital, operating theater, and visiting rooms with non-contact glass panels. There are also solitary cells and family units complete with a babies compound, childcare centre, play area, and classrooms (ASRC 2008). Concern has also been raised over the level of access that detainees will have to the Australian appeals system because Christmas Island remains technically in the offshore excised areas of Australia (UNHCR 2008).


The Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation, located near Brisbane airport, was opened at Pinkenba in November of 2007 (DIAC 2008c HREOC 2007). The few detainees that have been held in this facility to date have been short term detainees comprised of airport arrivals, visa overstayers, people whose visas have been cancelled, people in transition to other facilities, or people awaiting imminent removal. Detainees can remain for a maximum of 14 days. It consists of three accommodation blocks, each with five rooms (most with two beds) and kitchen, dining, living room, and laundry facilities. The facility, which is considered low security by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Council (HREOC), has a medium height low security fence and an infra red line alarm system. Two GSL officers are regularly stationed day and night at the centre and detainees receive key cards to access their bedrooms, with locked cupboards for their belongings. Pre-prepared food is provided by GSL officers. There are large outdoor spaces including a basketball court, DVDs, and internet facilities. A nurse is on site three times a week. HREOC, after inspecting the facility, deemed it “a satisfactory facility for transitional accommodation” (HREOC 2007).


The Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, located in suburban Melbourne, was opened in June 2008 (DIAC 2008). This facility is designed to house people in short-term detention before they are transferred to long-term centres or returned home, and provides temporary accommodation for people who are considered a low security risk (DIAC 2008c).


The Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre was opened in 1966, and a new ”purpose-built” centre was opened on site in 1983. In 2005, extensions and refurbishments improved the conditions and increased the “surge” capacity to 100 persons, with a “nominal” capacity of 70. The centre has a visitor reception area; administration health services room; services provider offices; control room; kitchen/dining area; male resident’s area and female resident’s area;recreational, educational, and laundry facilities; limited self-catering facilities; and outdoor exercise areas (DIAC 2008c).


The Northern Immigration Detention Centre was constructed in Darwin in 2001 within the Defense Establishment Berrimah, a military base. Upgrades in 2006 increased the capacity of the detention centre to to help deal with increasing numbers of detentions of illegal foreign fishers, picked up and charged for illegal fishing in the northern waters of Australia. The centre includes accommodation buildings; commercial kitchen/ recreation areas; a cyclone shelter; health services buildings; interview centres; induction centre; visits areas; cabanas; laundries; and administration buildings. The accommodation buildings have four to five rooms per building, each with a double bunk, wardrobe, desk and chairs (DIAC 2008c).


The Perth Immigration Detention Centre was established in 1981 within the Perth Domestic Airport precinct at a facility that had formerly be used by the Australian Federal Police. In addition to migrant detainees, people with a criminal conviction who are awaiting deportation are also detained there. The single level, 1130m2 site includes a “north wing” for men, a “west wing” for women. Each have bathroom facilities, recreation rooms, and kitchen and dining rooms. There is also an ”east wing” that has accommodation and recreational rooms, a visitation room, and administration and resident storage areas. The centre has a nominal capacity of 55 people, with a surge capacity of 64 (DIAC 2008c).


The Villawood Immigration Detention Centre is located in a western suburb of Sydney and was adapted from a migrant hostel into a secure immigration detention centre in 1976. The centre has an operating capacity of 500 people with a “surge capacity” of 700. It includes large dormitories for males; enclosed courtyards and shared kitchen, dining room, laundry and recreation, computer and education facilities; a medical centre and multi purpose medical building; shared rooms and ensuite accommodation for 40 single males; a TV room, day room and outdoor recreation space. The accommodation units have two to three bedrooms and a bathroom. One part of the centre accommodates single women and couples (DIAC 2008c).


Alternative forms of detention. The Australian government introduced what it terms “alternative” detention housing in 2005, including detention in motels, public hospitals, mental health facilities, private homes, and Residential Housing Centres. The DIAC claims that residential housing offers a “domestic environment with greater autonomy for the detained, while remaining formally in immigration detention” (DIAC 2008c). Those in immigration detention can ”volunteer” to be moved to residential housing. Selections are based on health and character screens. This program is designed for low security risk detainees, especially families with children. Detainees are restricted in their ability to enter and leave, but can cook their own food, go on accompanied visits to shops, and attend recreational, educational, and developmental activities (DIAC 2007). They are accompanied 24 hours a day under “softer” immigration conditions (HREOC 2007). Mentally unwell detainees can be held in private homes under the care of “designated persons” (HREOC 2007).


The Perth Immigration Residential Housing was opened in 2007 and includes two single storey buildings, each consisting of five bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen and dining facilities, and two living areas. An additional building can be used by residents and their visitors, and is used for administration. The Sydney Immigration Residential Housing was opened in 2006 and is located within the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. It comprises single storey accommodation for families. There are four duplex houses, each with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen and two living/dining areas. Each duplex is self-contained and has a small outdoor area. An additional communal building is used for administration. There is one single, large landscaped backyard and residents can have access to recreation and educational facilities. The DIAC claims that the security is ‘subtle and unobtrusive’ for both the Sydney and Perth immigration residential housing (DIAC 2008c).


The DIAC is planning to open an additional Immigration Transit Accommodation for short term, low flight risk people in Melbourne by 2008 and Adelaide by 2008/2009. They will provide hostel style accommodation, with central dining areas and “semi-independent living”, with fewer services than is typically offered in an immigration detention centres, catering to short-stay detainees (DIAC 2007).


Limited information is available on the frequency of use, locations, levels of security, and duration of detention for other forms of alternative detention in private houses, correctional facilities, watch houses, hotels, apartments, foster care and hospitals (DIAC 2008c).


Management of the immigration detention centres. Global Solutions Limited Australia (GSL Australia), previously Group 4 Falck, manages the operations of immigration detention centres and residential housing on behalf of the Australian Government. GSL is a privately owned facilities management company. GSL emerged from the UK-based Group 4 Securitas after a series of mergers and splits of the corporation that first led to the creation of  Group 4 Falck Global Solutions, then Securicor. The businesses, which were located in Great Britain, South Africa, and Australia, were then de-merged from the parent company, establishing GSL (Australia) Pty Ltd as a wholly owned subsidiary of Global Solutions Limited (GSL 2008).


GSL claims responsibility for “the care and well being of the people in detention” and uphold “security and good order” (GSL 2008). The company was contracted to operate all Australian Immigration Detention Centres and Immigration Reception and Processing Centres by the DIAC (which was previously called the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs)  in August 2003, taking over from the Australasian Correctional Management Pty Limited (HREOC 2004; GSL 2008).