The Real Cost of Detention Centres 

On Christmas Eve a few weeks ago—when many of us were undoubtedly enjoying time with family and friends—asylum seeker Faysal Ishak Ahmed died in hospital. His death was the result of injuries sustained from a fall and seizure while in detention on Manus Island. He was just 27 years old.

Ahmed is not the first asylum seeker to die on Manus Island, and if things continue as they are, he probably won’t be the last. In 2014, 24-year-old Hamid Kehazaei died after cutting his foot and developing septicemia. The island has also been plagued by allegations of abuse and assault by security guards. The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court had ordered the closure of Manus Island detention centre last April, yet it remains open. The Australian Government refuses to accept the decision handed down by the court. 

Manus Island is one of Australia’s main detention centres, alongside Christmas Island and Nauru. As of 30 November, 2015, 1,852 people were living in detention facilities.

It’s very easy to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in detention centres. Ignorance is bliss; however, in recent times, the media and other social and political bodies have continuously highlighted the mistreatment asylum seekers face in these detention facilities. It’s interesting to note most of the staff hired at these facilities are hired by the Australian Government.

Amnesty International suggested “the Australian government’s failure to address serious abuses appears to be a deliberate policy to deter further asylum seekers from arriving in the country by boat”. In the 2015 financial, the government spent $415 million on the operation of Nauru detention centre alone, which is approximately $350,000 per asylum seeker on the island. So, yes, it’s a shitload of money…but surely that’s no excuse for the Australian Government to treat human beings so appallingly? Surely there’s a better, more economical, solution?

Unfortunately, the road to a solution seems to be tedious, messy and far too political. There’s a lot of discussion about border security, people smugglers and uncontrolled migration. It’s not simply a matter of right and wrong. There’s been talk of further regional resettlement for asylum seekers, with 3,500 Syrian and Iraqi refugees being resettled in Australia after the government’s one off commitment to taking in 12,000 refugees. This opens a whole other discussion: how can we ensure these people are being comfortably integrated into, and included in, Australian society? 

Perhaps it’s not about changing immigration laws. Perhaps it’s simply about giving these people—people who are seeking safety and freedom—access to basic human needs. Living in a detention centre for a long period is certainly not ideal, but if it must happen, at least give people access to medical facilities and acceptable living conditions. As the old saying goes, treat people how you would like to, or expect to be, treated.

I feel like this is one of those issues so politically charged you may just want to remain neutral. But, at the end of the day, these are people’s lives and, at present, these lives are in the hands of the Australian Government. When you think about it, that’s pretty messed up. It’s extremely easy to turn a blind eye to this issue, but I suggest doing some research and educating yourself, because at the end of the day, this effects everyone. Including you.


Abbey Brandenburg