Technology fails asylum seekers

Aging computers, slow Internet connection and blocked websites continue to hinder residents in Australian immigration detention centres

“The lack of technology and communication options available to [asylum seekers] in detention was associated with emotional distress,” Leung said. Photographer: Joanne Saad. Reproduced with permission from U: magazine.

“The lack of technology and communication options available to [asylum seekers] in detention was associated with emotional distress,” Leung said. Photographer: Joanne Saad. Reproduced with permission from U: magazine.

Blocked websites and outdated ICT facilities continue to hinder the education and potential social integration of refugees and asylum seekers incarcerated in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre.

One Villawood detainee told Computerworld the current communications facilities on offer are insufficient and the centre’s 18 computers are slow and difficult to work with.

“There is [sic] a lot of blocked websites,” the detainee said. “I can’t even type properly with the current computers — if I type something, it will come up in the screen after five minutes.”

A contract for the provision of services at Villawood was awarded to services company, Serco Australia this year. As a result, the provision of Internet connectivity and IT equipment changed hands.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) confirmed Serco will also take on the provision services at other detention centres.

The detainee said that in October, Pentium 4, 1.7 gigahertz computers put in place by the former service provider — G4S Australia — were replaced with less powerful, 500 megahertz processor machines.

Although the detainee can access email and Facebook, the websites cannot be utilised 100 per cent because the connection is very slow, he said.

“The new computers are worse than before. All the time it is not comfortable to sit in front of the Internet, I am waiting for computers [to load].”

Detainees cannot use USB keys, making it difficult to maintain contact and share documents with their lawyers and other people on the outside.

“We’ve already complained for one month. They promise to fix it but we already wait for one month, but [there has been] no progress at all, they’ve done nothing about the computers,” the detainee said.

The comments reflect the findings of an 18-month study titled, Technology’s Refuge by Dr Linda Leung, a senior lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney’s (UTS) Institute for Interactive Media and Learning, which looked into the use of ICT by refugees and asylum seekers in their country of origin, during flight and displacement, and in settlement.

According to Leung's research, asylum seekers expressed an urgent need to contact friends and family back home, and to correspond with lawyers, police and government bodies upon reaching Australia.

“For refugees and asylum seekers, technologies are very intrinsic to their survival, to their displacement, and to their settlement,” Leung told Computerworld.

The new computers are worse than before. All the time it is not comfortable to sit in front of the Internet, I am waiting for computers [to load].

The study took place in 2007 and 2008, with Leung interviewing people who had spent time in an Australian immigration detention centre. It revealed asylum seekers experienced difficulty understanding and using technologies and struggled to maintain contact with family and friends both in Australia and their home countries.

“The lack of technology and communication options available to [asylum seekers] in detention was associated with emotional distress,” Leung said.

The issue of blocked websites was also highlighted in the study; one interviewee suggested several websites and social tools freely available to Australian residents were inaccessible.

“It’s been very hard because with the Internet here it’s blocked, some of the websites they have blocked. Say for instance, they have things like educational websites; websites related to anything to do with foreign nation situations. Anything to do with research or anything is blocked, and we only have access to the basics like the newspapers within Australia and the email and the chat. But sometimes the chat when you try to access it’s blocked too,” an asylum seeker addressed as “Mr A” said in the study.

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Tags g4sICTDepartment of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC)villawood detention centremobile phonesasylum seekerssercoUTSTelecommunications

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