Ask the UN torture control body to investigate the handcuffing in Australia of asylum seekers on their way to medical treatment

Ask the UN torture control body to investigate the handcuffing in Australia of asylum seekers on their way to medical treatment

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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: Michael Dodge / AAP

The United Nations’ torture prevention monitoring body has been urged to investigate Australia’s use of handcuffs on asylum seekers when seeking medical assistance, a practice that advocates condemn as inhumane and illegal.

In 2020, the Public Interest Advocacy Center (Piac) launched a historical trial case in federal court arguing that the practice of handcuffing immigrant detainees for medical transfers was illegal and traumatic, particularly for those with a history of torture and abuse.

Now, Piac has asked the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture to investigate the practice during its visit to Australia next month. The subcommittee should carefully review Australia’s immigration detention network.

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Piac and other advocacy groups say the practice effectively creates a barrier to access to essential health care and is illegal under the Migration Act and the Disability Discrimination Act.

“We have asked the UN subcommittee to look into this when they visit Australia in October,” Piacenza chief prosecutor Camilla Pandolfini said.

“He should not take action in federal court to ensure that people have access to basic essential care without the trauma and humiliation of being handcuffed to receive it.”

The Australian Border Force Detention Services Manual states that “the use of force and / or restraints should only be used as a last resort.”

He states that “first, officials should seek to achieve the desired goal wherever possible through escalation reduction techniques such as discussion, negotiation, verbal persuasion and cooperation.”

But the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office has consistently raised the issue for years of guards using unnecessarily mechanical restraints – usually handcuffs – for routine appointments.

“The office also continues to be concerned about detainees being mechanically constrained to attend medical appointments when alternatives such as increased stockpiles are available,” the Ombudsman wrote in 2020.

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In a 2022 report, the Ombudsman found that people detained in detention centers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne were routinely handcuffed for medical appointments.

“Inmates [in Brisbane] reported that they must forgo medical appointments if they do not wish to be handcuffed. Inmates said it was humiliating to sit in handcuffs in waiting rooms during off-site medical appointments.

“During our inspection of the Villawood Immigrant Detention Center we noticed that some detainees were being held while escorting them to the hospital for after-hours treatment. The Office fears that this practice may lead to a reluctance on the part of some detainees to seek medical care and constitute a barrier to detainees receiving medical treatment. “

This agrees with the plaintiff’s experience in the case of the Piac Federal Court, an asylum seeker known under the pseudonym of Yasir. Yasir has a history of child torture and abuse and suffers from severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“When I was handcuffed or told I was going to be handcuffed, I felt terrible,” he said.

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“I would start shaking and sometimes throw up or have convulsions and get hurt. I missed a lot of medical appointments because the guards said they wouldn’t catch me unless I was handcuffed. The doctors asked ‘why you refused to go to the appointment’ and I replied ‘I did not refuse the appointment, I refused the handcuffs’ “.

A report from the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2019 found numerous instances where plastic handcuffs or flexible handcuffs were used when unsecured.

The AHRC found that there was a policy – since changed – that required all physically fit adult inmates to be held for any escorts during the first 30 days of their detention, regardless of the risk they potentially posed.

Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition, said the use of handcuffs to hold people in immigration detention is “routine”.

“For the authorities inside the detention centers, using handcuffs, immobilizing people is their first resource, not their last resort.”

The Australian Border Force said it cannot comment on individual cases, but uses restrictions where “risk assessments indicate that the need for restrictions is appropriate and proportionate to the identified risk”.

“Each request is considered on a case-by-case basis following a risk assessment in consultation with healthcare professionals and an assessment of whether the proposed actions are appropriate and proportionate to the identified relevant risk,” said a spokesperson.

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