Questions Raised After Detainees Flee

Questions raised after detainees flee

Jewel Topsfield
The Age
December 16, 2008

THREE detainees at Maribyrnong Detention Centre pulled off brazen escapes at the weekend, raising questions about immigration security.

The latest escapes come less than two months after a Vietnamese detainee posed as a visitor and walked straight past security guards.

Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone called on detention centre operator GSL to review security, after two Vietnamese men scaled a five-metre fence at the rear of the detention centre at lunchtime on Saturday and disappeared.

The following night, Turkish man Mustafa Bectis managed to shrug off his two escorts at the emergency department of the Western General Hospital in Footscray, where he was being treated for a cut arm.

“If someone has just climbed over the back fence, GSL does need to very urgently review its security,” Ms Stone said. “If another person is being escorted to hospital and managed to escape then certainly they've got to take a lot more care.”

Mr Bectis, who was not handcuffed or shackled, raced through a door and vanished.

The two escapes are believed to have been assisted by people from the outside, with detainees able to communicate using email and mobile phones.

Police were immediately called in both instances by GSL, but have been unable to trace the absconders.

Ms Stone also criticised the decision not to make the escapes public, saying that residents who lived near the detention centre could have helped the police.

“Australia is such a multicultural place, it is very easy for anyone to blend into the background we don't require a showing of papers at borders between states,” she said.

She also said GSL may need to review its mobile phone policy where a detainee had a high flight risk.

In the past three years, 20 detainees have escaped while at Maribyrnong, Villawood and Perth detention centres, mostly while being escorted to court or on social outings.

Four escapes have been from Maribyrnong this year, compared with just two from Villawood and one from Perth.

The weekend shemozzle has come at a sensitive time for GSL, which hopes its contract will be renewed after the former government re-tendered all detention services.

A decision is expected to be announced in the first half of next year.

The Government is already under pressure over its border protection policy, with the Opposition claiming the scrapping of temporary protection visas has made Australia a “soft target” for people smugglers.

An Immigration Department spokesman said GSL would review security arrangements at Maribyrnong. “It is the responsibility of the detention services provider to ensure appropriate security is maintained at all times,” he said.

But he said email and mobile phone access were a “fundamental right” for people in immigration detention, and their use would not form part of the review.

GSL's director of public affairs, Tim Hall, said escapes were a matter of great concern. “We constantly strive to balance the needs of clients who are being held in administrative detention, not imprisonment, against our obligation to ensure that they are securely detained,” he said.