Australia eases detention rules for asylum seekers

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The government of Australia has announced a "suite of reforms" to its immigration detention system, revoking an unpopular policy of automatic detention for asylum seekers but reserving the right to detain migrants who are deemed a "security threat" upon preliminary evaluation.

Detention centers will now only be used as a "last resort" and for the "shortest practical time" for those who arrive in Australia under unlawful circumstances.

"A person who poses no danger to the community will be able to remain in the community while their visa status is resolved," said Immigration Minister Chris Evans.

"The department will have to justify why a person should be detained," he added. "Once in detention, a detainee's case will be reviewed every three months to ensure that the further detention of the individual is justified."

He said that children would not be kept in detention centers under any circumstances.

Under the current rules put in place by the previous Howard government, unlawful migrants can be detained for years even though they pose no threat to the Australian community.

However, some people will still be subject to detention under the new reforms.

"Unlawful non-citizens" - people who have entered Australia without proper authorization - who present an unacceptable risk to the community and people who have repeatedly refused to comply with their visa conditions will still be detained.

In addtion, unauthorized people arriving by boat to areas such as Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef will still be detained and subject to mandatory health, identity, and security checks.

The new reforms are a further dismantling of the so-called "Pacific Solution" -- Australia's former policy of detaining illegal immigrants offshore until their visa status could be worked out. The policy, implemented under the Howard government, drew heavy criticism from human rights activists since its proposal and throughout its existance.