Handcuffing in Australian immigration detention needs urgent review ahead of UN visit

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) says a comprehensive review of handcuffing in Australia’s onshore immigration detention system is urgently needed.

Handcuffing asylum seekers for offsite medical appointments and transfers between facilities has become routine practice, without individualised and appropriate assessment of risk. PIAC’s work with people in immigration detention shows the overuse of handcuffs is preventing people in onshore immigration detention from getting medical treatment.

PIAC has highlighted these concerns in a submission to the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ahead of a visit to Australia by subcommittee members in October 2022.

In 2020, PIAC client Yasir* launched a landmark test case under the Disability Discrimination Act because the misuse of handcuffs by detention centre staff meant he was unable to attend essential medical appointments while in detention.

With a history of childhood torture and abuse, Yasir has been diagnosed with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and is severely retraumatised by the use of handcuffs.

‘When I was handcuffed or told I would be handcuffed, I would feel terrible. I would start shaking and sometimes vomit or have seizures and injure myself,’ said Yasir.

‘I missed many medical appointments because the guards said they won’t take me unless I am handcuffed. The doctors would ask “why did you refuse to go to the appointment” and I would say “I didn’t refuse the appointment, I refused the handcuffs”.’

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Camilla Pandolfini, from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre says:

‘Many asylum seekers have a history of trauma and torture and handcuffing can have severe impacts on their mental health. It is unacceptable for guards to use handcuffing as routine practice.’

‘Asylum seekers in immigration detention are in an impossible position – they must either accept the harm and distress from being handcuffed in circumstances where it’s unjustified or lose their access to healthcare.’

‘We believe there is an ongoing failure by the Commonwealth government, and its contractor Serco, to genuinely consider and balance any risks posed by people held in immigration detention against these damaging impacts. We have asked the UN Subcommittee to look into this when they visit Australia in October.’

‘It shouldn’t take an action in the Federal Court to ensure people have access to basic essential treatment without the trauma and indignity of being handcuffed to receive it.’


Test case challenges the misuse of handcuffs against detained asylum seekers, PIAC media release


Media contacts:
Dan Buhagiar, Media and Communications Manager, 0478 739 280

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Towards Truth is a partnership between PIAC and UNSW Indigenous Law Centre.
Former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes settled a dispute over a 'humiliating and distressing' experience.
We secured a settlement for our client Yasir* who alleges he was forced to wear handcuffs to access healthcare.

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