In a surprising (though also belated) move, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has started to add downloadable attachments to their Freedom of Information (FOI) Disclosure Log; currently, this only applies to disclosures made since 1 January 2014.

While you can (and should) check out their logs yourself, you can also download a full archive of the 2014 logs, including all of the attachments, from here — simply expand the zipfile, and either open the file www.immi.gov.au/About/foi/Pages/disclosure-log-2014.aspx.html in your browser, or access the PDF and other files directly from www.immi.gov.au/About/foi/Documents.

We will check back on the DIBP from time to time and update our archive accordingly.

Today we received our first set of documents released by the (now) Department of Immigration and Border Protection under the provisions of the FOI Act (Commonwealth). The request was for:

Any policy or guideline documents, effective from October 2009 onwards, that define the types of incidents (hereafter referred to as their classification) that can be reported to the Department by detention service providers, and define or explain which categories should be applied to which incidents. (For example, documents that define the classifications supported by the CCMD Portal, and documents that might be used by a Serco officer to determine which classification(s) best describe incidents that occur within a detention centre)

A PDF copy of the request, decision and Serco’s Incident Reporting Guideline is available here.

Now that we’ve imported nearly 1,600 serious incidents from the Detention Logs data set, here’s a description of our methodology and process.

Our stating point was the raw dataset provided by the ‘Detention Logs‘ team.  As this set contains 65 categories ranging from insect bites, power failures and external protests to deaths, the 7,600-odd incidents were filtered down to the more serious ones that directly involved people in detention.

Category Mapping

Unlike the Detention Logs site (and, it seems, most other projects that directly use their data), the Refugee Rights Watch project has its own hierarchy of incident types, so a mapping from DIAC’s taxonomy to our own had to be established.  The mapping we used is shown below (with our categories marked in bold):

  • Accident: Accident/Injury – Serious
  • Mental health: Clinical Depression, Self Harm – Threatened
  • Deaths: Death
  • Medical emergency: Emergency – medical – offsite
  • Self-harm: Self Harm – Actual, Self Harm-Attpted Serious
  • Use of force: Use of Force, Use of Restraints, Use of Restraints-Unplnd
  • Hunger strike: Voluntary starvation (>24 hrs), Voluntary starvation by Minor
  • Rights of the Child: Voluntary starvation by Minor
  • Relocation: Transfer btwn facilities, Transfer to APOD
  • Deportation imminent: Removal – Aborted

Note that incidents of attempted suicide were manually flagged as DIAC’s data doesn’t have a corresponding category; the manual review was doubly necessary given the inconsistent, and arguably incorrect, classification of hangings, etc., variously as attempted serious self-harm, self-harm actual and threatened self-harm.

Location Data

In addition to those centres that had a unique mapping from location name to facility, the following mappings were used during our import process:

  • Christmas Island IDC: Christmas Island, Construction Camp APOD, Lilac Aqua, North West Point Immigration Facility, Phosphate Hill APOD, Phosphate Hill B Compound
  • Leonora APOD: Leonora APOD, Gwalia Lodge, Leonora Lodge
  • Northern IDC: Northern IDC, Berrimah Accommodation Facility

As with other projects, data from the Jandakot APOD and Virginia Palms Motel were omitted due to their low incident count.

Importing the Data into the Watch Site

The data import process proper consisted of two steps:

  1. running a custom Python script to create an XML document with one node per report — in addition to including the remapped categories and locations, incident titles were constructed based upon incident types and locations, and fields such as date, lat–long, the description and source links were included based on the corresponding fields in the ‘Detention Logs’ dataset;
  2. the resulting XML file was imported into the watch site using the underlying engine’s import functionality (after a bug in the Ushahidi platform was found and fixed).

While there’s still more to do, we’ve just imported over 1,200 incidents from the ‘Detention Logs’ database into our system. And while they are disturbing in and of itself, the records obtained under FOI by the ‘Detention Logs‘ project seems to contain a lot of misclassifications — apparently some Serco or DIAC employees think that self-harm by attempted hangings, overdosing or ingestion of points aren’t actual incidents, they’re just threats of self harm.

Many thanks must go to the DL people for obtaining and releasing this information, but if we want to get a better picture of what’s going on in our detention centres, we also need people to go through the raw data to look for inconsistencies (and to submit further FOI requests to clarify these incidents). If you’re interested in doing this, please let us know — there’s no sense in duplicating our efforts.

In conjunction with interarma.org, we’ve just released an early beta version of a incident reporting and aggregation site focused on incidents and abuses affecting refugees caught within Australia’s immigration detention system.

We’re currently refining the incident categories and which details we should capture, but if you want to check it out, it is now live at http://watch.refugee-rights.net/. And if you want to get involved and/or provide feedback, that’d be even better!

watch.refugee-rights.net