Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

The Social and Economic Impacts of Immigration Detention Facilities: A South Australian Case Study

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

The Social and Economic Impacts of Immigration Detention Facilities: A South Australian Case Study

Article excerpt


Globally, the arrival of asylum seekers into the West has created two opposing trends. The first is a continuing focus on measures to stop asylum seeking, including a greater reliance on detention as a first resort (Edwards 2011). However, behind the scenes of this campaign, host countries must still house claimants whilst their applications are processed. In response to this need, the second observable trend is the reform of asylum processing systems, particularly of detention.

These trends are observable in Australia. Immigration detention has been mandatory and indefinite for all asylum seekers arriving by boat since 1992. There have been extensive criticisms of the Australian detention system, including: the effects of remote facilities and length of detention on the health and wellbeing of detainees, particularly children; limited access to legal assistance and social support; the financial costs of detention; and inhumane and inappropriate treatment of detainees (Phillips & Spinks 2012). These criticisms have prompted some reforms, including the development of Alternative Places of Detention (APODs) for families and children. APODs are close to established communities, are low security, allow children to go to school and emphasise health and wellbeing.

However, the campaign against asylum seeking, which continues even as these reforms are rolled out, has created a political and social context where there is little balanced information available to the general public. In such a climate, these new APODs, which bring asylum seekers and residents into much closer contact than previously, are met with hostility and anger. This has also been the case in other schemes which locate asylum seekers in existing communities, such as the UK Dispersal Scheme (Phillimore & Goodson, 2006; Dawson 2009; Mulvey 2010). Negative attitudes to asylum seekers are high, higher than those against immigration generally, and are perpetuated through negative media reportage focused on illegality and threat (Pedersen et al. 2006; Goot & Watson 2011; McKay et al. 2011; Markus 2011; Haslam & Holland 2012). Much of this opposition focuses on the perceived economic and social impacts of large numbers of asylum seekers on host communities. Viral emails and media reports have circulated that asylum seekers lower wages, increase unemployment and reduce economic productivity, create pressure on health, education and welfare services and reduce social cohesion (for example, Jones 2012).

Research on attitudes to immigration more generally has identified that beliefs about economic and social impacts underlie negative attitudes towards immigrants. Esses, Brochu and Dickson (2012) found that negative attitudes increase when immigrants are perceived as competing with members of the host society for economic resources. Even where individuals are not themselves personally affected by poor economic circumstances, a belief that State, national and international economies are fragile also increases negative attitudes towards immigration (Citrin et al. 1997). In Europe, the impact of austerity measures has meant that these issues are now even more pressing. However, new research in the United Kingdom suggests that beliefs that immigration reduces social cohesion are now a more significant factor in negative attitudes towards immigration than concerns about negative economic impacts (Card et al. 2012).

Yet despite the proliferation and consequences of concerns about economic and social impacts, there is limited previous research on actual impacts that can be used to challenge or address people's beliefs and fears, particularly impacts relating to asylum seekers and those at a local level. The existing research on impacts generally focuses on the national level and on immigration as a whole. This research on economic and social costs and their relationship to attitudes is focused on immigration generally, rather than asylum seekers specifically. …

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