07:26am Tuesday 15 October 2019

Deaths on the border need to be counted

The Border Crossing Observatory is calling on the Australian Institute of Criminology to start counting deaths in migration detention centres. Photo: Ray Michalowski

Photo: Ray Michalowski

Data shows close to 30 asylum seekers have died in Australian detention centers over the past decade but these fatalities are not included in the Australian Government’s deaths in custody records.

In the Australian Border Deaths Database, compiled since year 2000 by The Border Crossing Observatory based at Monash University, 964 border-related deaths have been recorded including estimates of passengers missing from shipwrecked vessels, believed drowned.

Of the total recorded deaths, 27 occurred in the custodial settings of offshore detention (2), onshore detention (21) and during apprehension/deportation (4).

While it was contended each of the deaths were related to the operation of Australian border controls, very few are considered deaths in migration custody and accounted for by the Australian Government.

The Border Crossing Observatory is calling on the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) to start counting deaths in migration detention centres as a part of their National Deaths in Custody Monitoring Program (NDICMP) reporting for 2013.

The Observatory’s Professor Sharon Pickering said given the rapid growth in the number of boats arriving in Australia and the lack of transparency of onshore immigration enforcement practices, this silence was increasingly problematic for policy-makers.

“It is common knowledge that people have died in Australian immigration detention centres and in Australian migration custody,” Professor Pickering said.

“Deaths that occur in custody are not counted in Australia’s official deaths in custody statistics because for years it has been determined by the AIC and the Government that asylum seekers in these kinds of circumstances are technically not in custody.”

“These circumstances, we believe, generate a duty of care that falls on Australian law enforcement and border protection officials and should be included in the AIC monitoring program. This would indicate the deaths of Asylum seekers while under the care of government officials are accorded the same significance as the deaths of Australian citizens.”

The Border Crossing Observatory continues to monitor border related deaths that occur in Australia or en route to Australia. 

“Deaths in custody have happened before, and it’s reasonable to expect they’ll happen again. Just last weekend, three men detained at the immigration facility in Nauru engaged in self-harm. We have seen this before, and we know where it leads,” Professor Pickering said.

In seeking to account for, rather than merely count border-related deaths, Professor Pickering and Monash University colleague Dr Leanne Weber’s latest book, Globalization and Borders: Deaths at the Global Frontier is intended to shift the debate about contemporary border controls towards the acceptance of a more mobility-tolerant future.

Monash University.

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