Yasir* bravely challenged Border Force for the harmful use of restraints on those in immigration detention which has been condemned by medical professionals and human rights experts.
Yasir* stood up against this punitive practice for himself and others trapped in detention. He took on Border Force in court to demand the end of the traumatic and inhumane use of handcuffs and restraints against asylum seekers and refugees in detention. After a 3-year legal battle, Yasir settled the case in November 2023.
In 2013, Yasir fled his country because he had no status as an ethnic minority and was constantly targeted by police and authorities. More than two decades earlier, he was deported from his country of birth with his family – and imprisoned as ‘enemies of the state’ for two years. Yasir was tortured by the prison guards as a child who kept him in handcuffs. He saw them do the same to his family and other prisoners.
Yasir says, “the things that happened in jail changed me forever. That nightmare continued when my family was deported to a neighbouring country. We stayed more than 10 years in a ‘Foreigners Detention Centre’ and suffered extreme poverty and violence there."
"Since that time, anytime I see a handcuff or someone being handcuffed, I get a flashback, like a movie, I go back to the worst time in my life. I sometimes get shaky and I sometimes get a seizure."
Despite Yasir’s experience of torture with handcuffs at the hands of authorities, Border Force require he and other people people locked in detention wear them in order to access medical care. For Yasir, this means he is unable to access the medical care he needs for fear of seizures if he is handcuffed.
Yasir says "I missed many medical appointments because they said they wouldn’t take me unless I am handcuffed. But when they used them on me, I would have seizures, fall over and hit my head and feel bad for weeks. My body would shake, sometimes I would vomit and I would feel terrible. Even talking about or thinking about handcuffs makes me feel awful."
The Australian Human Rights Commission and Commonwealth Ombudsman have found that restraints are often misused against detained asylum seekers and can amount to excessive use of force.
Yasir fled to Australia in 2013 when the constant persecution made life impossible. Like many people seeking protection in Australia, he now knows he has severe PTSD.
“When I arrived on Christmas Island and saw the guards and high fences, my first thought was “not again!”. For the past seven years in Australian immigration detention, I haven’t slept much because of the nightmares and I have constant traumatic flashbacks.”
“People are often surprised that many detained asylum seekers are handcuffed when going to and from off-site medical appointments," says Yasir. “I have asked many times for it to stop. Many doctors and counsellors have written reports saying that I should never be restrained like this because it is too re-triggering for me. I have made many complaints, but I have never been told why handcuffs are necessary, nor why there are times when I can go without restraints.”
Yasir argued that the Commonwealth and/or its agents engaged in unlawful disability discrimination against him, in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), by requiring that he be handcuffed while being escorted between facilities and while obtaining medical care despite knowledge his history of trauma and diagnosis with PTSD. The use of restraints meant that he had been deprived of the opportunity to receive medical care and his conditions were exacerbated.
The case settled in November 2013, and Yasir says he is pleased with the outcome and feels there has been some accountability for his mistreatment.
He noted "I feel happy and sad now. Sad about the bad things that happened to me and how that made my health worse and still impacts my life but happy because I can tell my story and let people know about the bad things the Commonwealth and Serco do to people like me. I am really happy because I didn’t have a voice and when PIAC help me, people could hear my voice. I am happy with how things finished."
Yasir was represented by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the case was supported by Grata Fund.
*Yasir’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.
There are no court documents publicly available for this case.