Setback for Australia's Ban on Phones in Immigrant Detention

March 20, 2017

On Friday, the government of Australia met a legal stumbling block in its attempt to prohibit mobile phones in migration holding cells, a law that nay-sayers say would subject foreigners to criminal treatment.

A judge sitting on the case threw out the government’s proposition that the federal court of Australia lacked the legal capacity to conduct a hearing on the case.

The federal government has the grace of a fortnight to appeal the judgment. If no appeal is forthcoming, then the federal court would proceed to entertain a class-action suit by those who have been detained. They argue that a straight prohibition of mobile phones from holding centers would be against the law.

The new law, if implemented would set back hundreds of people locked up in holding centers in the Australian mainland and also on the boundary of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

The prohibition of cell phones would not extend to foreigners and refugees who try to enter Australia by sea and have been assigned to migration settlements on the countries on the Pacific island such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

The majority of the refugees come from Australia by air and are remanded in the holding cells on the mainland together with foreign individuals who have gone against the terms and conditions of their permits and convicts who are waiting to be sent back to their native country after serving out their time in jail.

The Australian Department of migration and territory security had earlier determined to seize all mobile phones the previous month, but an injunction obtained just in time by human right activists in the country prevented them from going ahead with the proposed act.

The injection allowed for prisoners and those held in detention to maintain communication with their family to the outside world until the legal process surrounding the phone seizing law had been resolved.

A senior attorney at the country’s justice scheme that began the injunction, George Newhouse, stated that though mobile phones are totally outlawed in holding centers in Australia, refugees and foreigners should not be subjected to criminal treatments.

“Looking for protection should not turn you into a criminal. Cell phones provide foreigners and refugees the platform they need to keep in touch with their families and the world at large.

Their psychological stability is dependent on this,” Newhouse stated.

“The outright ban on mobile phones treats the innocent man as though he was guilty. The government needs to look into this properly,” Newhouse added.

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