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The social and economic impacts of immigration detention facilities: a South Australian case study.


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. This is an important caveat, as asylum seekers are a special case, both in terms of their political visibility and their use of resources. Nor are social and economic impacts the only influence on attitudes, especially those towards asylum seeking which are influenced by other structural and cultural contexts like nationalism and terrorism (Blinder 2011). However, our research in a South Australian community where asylum seekers have been housed in an APOD found that social and economic concerns (such as the effects on employment, local schools and real estate prices) were a prominent theme expressed by residents and warranted further exploration. We have summarised here the research on immigration, social and economic impacts generally as an initial framework for thinking through the local impacts of asylum seekers more specifically.

The consensus of this previous research on immigration is that negative views on the impact of migrant settlement are based on misperceptions. Overall, immigration creates a net gain for the nation through immigrants' financial contribution, including that of refugees and asylum seekers (Hugo 2011). Immigrants' use of services is much lower than commonly claimed and there is a significant positive difference between the costs of their service use and their financial contribution (Vargas-Silva 2011). This national-level research also concludes that when income inequality, deprivation and impoverishment are controlled for, diversity does not decrease social cohesion (Letki 2008; Gesthuizen et al. 2009; Demireva 2011; Laurence 2011).

Similarly, previous research has found that immigrants, including humanitarian entrants, do not disproportionately burden the public health care system, even where they do not have access to health insurance or Medicare (Spike et al. 2011). Immigrants use fewer health care services than the native population (Correa-Velez et al. 2007, 2008; Jayaweera 2011) and the comparative cost of their health care is lower (Cots et al. 2007). However, the impacts of immigrants on health care services are mediated by government policy, and this has significantly affected asylum seekers and the health services which provide for them. Where asylum seeker policies limit access to health care or provide insufficient funds for health services, those doctors and hospitals who do provide care experience an uncompensated increase in their workload (Kardamanidis & Armstrong 2006). In these instances, health impacts may be felt at a local level, and by some health service providers and not others.

This research on health impacts suggests that, whilst immigration has an overall positive impact, it can impose initial up-front costs at the local level. Research in the United States and the United Kingdom has also found that there may be up-front local costs for education and housing as well (Iowa State University 2001; CURDS 2006; Griswold 2012). It is the case that there is often a delay between benefiting from the economic boost from immigration and the initial pressures on social and physical infrastructure (Franks 2012). This may be particularly true in relation to asylum seekers, whose contributions, whilst substantial, do take longer to manifest. This longer time lag arises both because asylum seekers may have had low levels of mental and physical wellbeing in their home countries before migrating and as a result of long periods spent in detention in the destination country (Hugo 2011).

There is also evidence that the impacts of immigration differ depending on the socio-economic circumstances of the host community. Those living in already impoverished areas are particularly likely to feel that the arrival of asylum seekers in their town further reduces their own already poor life opportunities and to feel that the distribution of funds to new arrivals is unfair (Goodall 2010). Whilst research demonstrates that there is no negative impact of immigration on wages for lower skilled workers, rather a small positive effect (Ottaviano & Peri 2012), low skilled workers may experience negative rather than positive economic benefits when importing labour reduces pressure to invest in training and skills development (CURDS 2006). Interestingly, some research shows that those who actually experience the greatest negative impacts on wages are previous immigrants (Ottaviano & Peri 2012).

Impacts also differ depending on the type of detention scheme: high-security immigration detention, low-security alternative places of detention, or community detention. Each scheme differs in terms of its infrastructure (a single building or a housing complex), its population (large numbers of asylum seekers or a few placed in geographically distant locations), and the interaction between detainees and residents (asylum seekers living in the community or asylum seekers completely detained). These may have different impacts in terms of aesthetics, population density and use of local services, although there is no research on this as yet.

This overview of previous research suggests that while at the national level there are positive economic effects and no reduction in social cohesion following immigration, there may be costs at a local level depending on the economic circumstances of the receiving community and the type of detention. However, we currently lack research specific to the local impacts of asylum seekers. Critically, such research can provide the evidence base for a more targeted response to local communities experiencing, or about to experience, the arrival of asylum seekers in various forms of detention. It can also support local and national-level planning for new arrivals--planning that mitigates negative impacts and enhances positive ones, thereby reducing residents' anxieties about impacts.

As a contribution to this evidence base our paper outlines the main findings of research on the impact of a new low security detention facility on the local economy--employment, productivity, house prices and demand--and on health services and social cohesion. This research was part of a larger social and economic impact assessment of this facility on the local community which also assessed impacts on education, infrastructure and security (Every et al. 2012; SACES 2012). As well as 'what' impacts, the research also explores 'why' these impacts, that is the new and existing factors that led to particular outcomes. These new and existing factors include: the characteristics of the facility (its location, purpose and population--all of which are in turn influenced by government policies); the characteristics of the host community (existing infrastructure, socio-economic conditions--education, employment, income, housing, existing levels of diversity and experiences with diversity); and government or community interventions and actions (such as funding, policies, programs, lobby groups). The analysis of these underlying factors is particularly important when considering planning options for housing new arrivals. The analysis in this paper demonstrates that much of the feared and experienced negative impacts can be avoided through more carefully considered planning that specifically targets the needs of the wider community.

With this broader usefulness beyond the case study in mind, in each of the sections we include some reflections on how our case study findings might be useful to other communities that have, or will have, a detention facility located nearby. In doing so, we are mindful that our case study is just that, a single case. Woodside, where the APOD is located, has a demographic profile that is quite different from, for example, Christmas Island, where there are three APODs and an IDC. It is also located in quite a different setting from a remote detention centre such as Curtin. Further, as noted, an APOD is a different type of detention from an IDC such as Villawood, or from community detention, which have different aesthetic impacts and different levels of interaction between detainees and the local community. Each of these factors--demographics and existing social/economic issues, location and type of detention--will shape the social and economic impacts on the local area. Bearing this in mind, some of our insights are likely to be useful in other communities, albeit suitably modified to their own particular circumstances.


Background to the Australian immigration detention system

In 1992, Australia introduced mandatory detention for all people arriving without a valid visa (Phillips & Spinks 2011). This detention ranges from complete incarceration in a closed facility (Immigration Detention Centres (IDCs)), to detention in a secure facility with some access to local services (Alternative Places of Detention, Immigration Residential Housing), to community detention in which people are housed within communities and can be part of those communities without being escorted (DIAC 2009). There are eight IDCs in Australia, two of which are in rural/remote areas (Curtin, Yongah Hill) and one of which is offshore (Christmas Island). There are six Alternative Places of Detention, including the South Australian Inverbrackie APOD which is the site for this study, and six places for residential housing or transit accommodation. Community detention occurs in all the major cities (DIAC 2013). APODs and community detention options are primarily for vulnerable families and unaccompanied minors (DIAC 2009).

Whilst some of these facilities have been established for some time (such as Villawood) and others have gone through phases of use, closure and re-use (such as Curtin), the APODs have been built in the last three years, starting in 2010. As well as increasing the opportunities for community detention, the APODs were part of efforts to reform the immigration detention system, particularly alleviating some of its worst effects on children and families (Phillips & Spinks 2012).

The site for this study

In 2010, a low security immigration detention facility--the Inverbrackie Alternative Place of Detention (APOD)--was opened in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. The facility uses 74 houses that previously formed the residential area of the Woodside Army Barracks owned by the Australian Defence Force. The facility is situated 1.5 kilometres from Woodside, a small semi-rural township of 2,270 residents (Adelaide Hills Council 2008). It houses up to 400 asylum seekers, specifically families with children. The APOD delivers most services on site. All food, clothing and housing are supplied--detainees do not use local shops or services on an individual basis. However, the APOD has local contracts to supply goods and services such as food, building maintenance, pharmaceuticals, and cleaning. Children in the APOD attend nine local pre-, primary and high schools. Both children and adults are taken in groups on local excursions. Birthing and accident and emergency services are provided through the closest local hospital at Mt Barker.

Woodside is a middle-income, semi-rural town with a number of antique stores, local boutique wineries, cheese-making and chocolatiers. It has low unemployment (2.1 per cent) though with comparatively lower educational attainments than other nearby towns (Adelaide Hills Council 2008). Our interviews with residents and the Council found that as a small town it experiences a significant number of young people leaving the area for work and study.

Woodside as a town has also had limited experience in ethnic diversity. Data on the ethnic diversity in Woodside shows that less than two per cent of the population comes from non-English speaking backgrounds (Adelaide Hills Council 2008). Our interviews with the local council and residents confirmed that the only experiences of ethnic diversity in Woodside have come through the media, individual travel, the arrival of a small number of Vietnamese skilled migrants who re-settled in the nearby town, and seasonal agricultural workers from the Middle East, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Data collection and analysis

The data collection and analysis used a mixed-methods approach. The economic impacts were primarily assessed through quantitative data and the social impacts through qualitative data (outlined below). However, the quantitative and qualitative findings on particular impacts on the economy and social cohesion overlap, and together provide a comprehensive assessment of the impacts. The mixed-methods approach allowed for an assessment not only of 'what' impacts, but also of the 'how' and 'why' of these particular impacts.

Economic data collection and analysis

The economic impacts of the APOD were assessed using regional input-output tables to calculate the gross impact of the spending associated with the APOD. The calculations used data from a range of sources including the regional input-output (IO) table for the 'Adelaide Hills' economy prepared for the Department of Trade and Economic Development by EconSearch (2009), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2011a, 2011b) and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and its contractors. Other potential impacts of the APOD raised by community members which had an economic element, such as the potential impacts on house prices, tourism and local infrastructure were also assessed where relevant data existed (for example, Adelaide Hills Council 2011).

An input-output table describes the linkages between sectors of the economy based on their patterns of purchase and supply. For each of the sectors in the economy (including accommodation, cafes and restaurants, food and beverages, manufacturing) it details the inputs the sector uses, and to what sectors it sells its output.

How the input-output approach works is best illustrated by example. Suppose the facility management spends $100 on products from a local bakery in Woodside. That bakery then uses the $100 to purchase inputs from primary and intermediate suppliers. Primary suppliers are employees, providers of capital, indirect taxation, and suppliers of goods and services. The bakery also purchases inputs (such as flour, meat and vegetables) from intermediate suppliers in the Adelaide Hills region which, by and large, are other businesses. Payments to those business enterprises then flow to their own primary incomes and intermediate suppliers. This process carries on repeatedly, with ultimately all of the payments flowing to primary incomes. The input-output table allows us to trace through, and aggregate, this chain of impacts.

Input-output analysis is a well-established technique for assessing regional impacts, but it should be noted that the estimated impacts are gross not net impacts. That is, the modelling does not account for potential offsetting factors, such as increased local activity leading to wage rises, which in turn leads to reduced local employment by other employers. Further, regional input-output models only approximate the actual pattern of linkages between industries in their region as input-output data are only published nationally, with local tables developed by modifying the national data to reflect regional patterns of economic activity.

Social data collection and analysis

A social impact assessment analyses the intended and unintended consequences of social change on individuals and communities. It identifies ways to manage these consequences that will bring about a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human environment (Vanclay 2002). There are a number of ways to undertake a social impact assessment. Lane, Ross and Dale (1997) rate these on a continuum from non-participatory, top-down approaches to participatory, grassroots assessments. In the first, the assessor takes the stance of the expert, generally using a pre-determined list of potential impacts. Such approaches have been criticised for their failure to involve the community, thereby excluding important community concerns and the diversity of experiences within a community. In the second, what is included in the assessment is established through a community scoping study, and the assessment involves multiple perspectives gained through multiple data collection methods (Lane et al. 1997).

Our study undertook the latter approach. We conducted an initial scoping study using data from community forums and meetings, local media and meetings with the local council from the announcement of the APOD (October 2010) to three months after its opening (March 2011). For the data for this scoping study we attended three community forums, collected all media articles on Inverbrackie from the local and national papers (including The Advertiser and The Australian) and met three times with the local council.

The facility had been operating for six months when we began resident and stakeholder interviews over a further period of three months (the second half of 2011). We conducted 124 qualitative interviews with residents and key stakeholders in each of the areas of predicted impact--health, education, real estate, local business, services and infrastructure (roads, fire, the local council, the police) and social cohesion (churches, social groups).

We used two recruitment approaches--the first open, the second targeted. We used both because we needed to gain the widest possible spectrum of views on the issues, and we needed to assess the issues from different viewpoints--so, for example, to assess impacts on health we needed to speak to people who used the local health services; but also those who provided the services and those who coordinated the health services for the asylum seekers in the APOD. For the open recruitment (because we wanted to speak with any residents in the area), we placed fliers (as shown in Appendix A) in local businesses, the local council and local circulars (such as the church newsletter). For the second, targeted strategy, we contacted via phone, email and through meeting people at community forums, people who worked in each of the key areas of concern listed above. For example, in relation to health, we contacted and spoke with staff at the local hospital, local GPs and their office staff, disability carers, other local healthcare providers, the SA Ombudsman's office and health providers within the APOD itself. We also placed a box in the local library with a brief questionnaire for people to submit anonymously (as shown in Appendix B).

Using both these targeted and general recruitment and data collection methods produced a comprehensive picture of the impact of the APOD on each key area from the perspective of both service providers and people in the community. The sample of 124 is approximately five per cent of the local population. There were 62 women (50 per cent) and 45 men (36 per cent), with 17 (14 per cent) undisclosed for gender (on anonymous surveys collected in the feedback box located in the local library). The age of interviewees ranged from 25 to 70.

The interviews were open-ended and informal, with an average time of about forty-five minutes. The questions were individualised for each situation, but we focused on three broad areas: views on the APOD; impacts on health, education, the local economy, local services, security and community relationships; and communication (between the community and DIAC, between the community members themselves). The interviews and the survey in the library asked core questions such as: 'what are your main concerns about the APOD?'; 'what impacts has it had on you? (with examples)', 'how to do you get most of your information about the facility?'; and 'what would you like to see happen with the facility?'.

We also undertook approximately 30 hours of ethnographic observations. These were done walking through the main streets, eating at the local eateries, and sitting on the various parks and benches throughout the town. This increased our understanding of how the APOD affected the use of the town's roads, local services and aesthetics.

To supplement the information gained through the interviews and ethnography, other relevant data included: demographic statistics on Woodside from the ABS (Adelaide Hills Council 2008) local, state and national print, television and audio media; transcripts, minutes, notes and observations from meetings (the town meetings on 21 October 2010 and 24 November 2010; the Combined Circle of Friends Community Forum on 24 January 2011; the Community Forums held by the Community Liaison Officers on 27 January 2011, 24 February 2011 and 29 March 2011); the Community Reference and Community Consultative Group meetings; submissions to the Joint Select Committee on Australia's Immigration Detention Network held in 2011; web pages and social networking sites set up by Woodside interest groups; information from interviews with DIAC staff; reports and statistics from SA Health, Adelaide Hills Council and the Department of Defence on demographics, health services and the economic contribution of the army barracks to the town.

The impacts of the APOD on the local economy and social cohesion

The local economy: employment, local economic productivity and value, business opportunities, house prices

Beliefs that asylum seekers negatively impact on host economies are common, as outlined in the introduction. The concerns expressed by residents of Woodside were typical in this regard. Our interviews, the local meetings and media analysis showed that residents expected the APOD would use local facilities and infrastructure but not employ locals or put its money back into the local economy. Many residents also believed the facility would reduce house prices and property demand.

Concurrently, there was also a view held by many that the facility would bring significant economic opportunities. This view came from both those who were optimistic about the APOD's economic benefits and saw it as a positive for the town, and those who were very unhappy that the APOD was in the area and demanded that the town must be recompensed through significant economic benefit. The benchmark for this economic benefit was set quite high, and was expected to be visibly evident.

As our research demonstrated, whilst there were economic benefits, and the predicted economic drain did not occur, there remained scepticism about the APODs contribution. As our research shows, much of this contribution was in the form of indirect effects, rather than direct and highly observable effects like actual employment in the facility. We discuss this further below.

Employment and the local economy

The economic input-output analysis identified a $38 million increase in local gross value added, and 463 jobs across the region. Based on historical employment patterns, and the actual location of employees at the APOD, it was expected that 297 of these jobs would be filled by Adelaide Hills' residents, including 14 by residents of Woodside. The input-output analysis estimate of gross value add and employment takes into account not only the actual number of new positions opened in the APOD itself (direct impact), but also the flow-on effects of the new business and thus the new funds available in the area (indirect impact). The expenditure of the APOD, and that of its new employees, in turn increases suppliers' income, and their expenditure in other services and so on. The breakdown of these estimates of total impact and employment by sector are set out in Tables 1 and 2 below.

For the local employees, these new opportunities meant a new career, as well as greater financial stability and security. Local residents employed by the facility reported that the new roles had enabled them to 'better support my family', "buy a house and have a family' and 'make a career change to use skills in a dynamic environment'.

New employment opportunities were also created through new business contracts. It was estimated, using the input-output calculations, that of the local expenditure from the APOD ($36 million AU) $2 to 2.5 million has flowed into local businesses through contracts for health services (physiotherapy, radiology, midwifery, pharmaceuticals), waste removal, building and repairs, fencing, labouring, fire wood delivery and cleaning contracts. For these local businesses, this was reported in our interviews as a welcome boost in a slower economy.

These outcomes for employment were the result of the combined efforts of the facility management and local residents. As part of an agreement between the local council, the Commonwealth and State governments, the facility policy included a specific focus on creating local employment and using local products wherever possible. Following this, job advertisements were focused in the local area, as were tenders for contracts. Together, the local Commerce Association and the facility management ran information sessions for local businesses. These showcased local goods and services, and were also used to inform local businesses about the goods and services required for the facility's current and future needs.

However, employment and business opportunities were also limited by a number of pre-existing factors in the local community: the existing skill sets of the local pool of potential employees, the availability of particular goods and services, supply size and capacity, competitive pricing, and hostility from some local residents.

The jobs created at the APOD were in specific skills areas: specialised English as Second Language teachers, security, client support and case workers, administration/management and cleaning. Given the limited number of existing skilled workers in Woodside to fill these positions, an above average proportion of the employees at the APOD were recruited outside of the Adelaide Hills. Further, most of these positions were filled through currently employed residents of the Adelaide Hills changing jobs, rather than coming from a pool of unemployed workers. This situation was a result of the very small pool of unemployed workers in the Adelaide Hills (2.8 per cent of the local population) (Adelaide Hills Council 2008). As noted ill the methods section on the input-output model, employment generated in the region by the APOD may recruit people from existing positions rather than people who are unemployed.

The business opportunities were also in specific areas of goods and services, which changed across the lifecycle of the facility. Broadly, an immigration facility has two stages: start up and on-going. The first phase is mainly about establishing infrastructure, so it requires goods and services to be supplied quickly and often in large quantities. Our interviews showed that during this first stage the facility was able to use, for example, a local locksmith, but for large goods like demountable buildings, there was no local company that could supply these. However, the on-going stage required services that are much easier to source locally. The capacity is smaller and the timeframes less pressured. There were more regular business opportunities, particularly for those in building and maintenance, during this phase.

Local business opportunities were also constrained by local opposition. Some residents threatened to ban local businesses who liaised with the facility. Others complained to the facility management about parking, buses and congestion in waiting rooms in local services. Although our ethnographic observations and interviews demonstrated there was minimal impact from the APOD on these issues, this hostility resulted in one local health service provider moving their business with the APOD onsite. Although this overt hostility seems to have diminished, businesses we spoke with still expressed caution about being known to work with the APOD and were thus sometimes reluctant to overtly seek business with them.

House prices and demand

Across the 18 month time period of data collection for this study, there was no evidence of any negative effects on house prices or demand. The economic analysis undertook a comparison of property price data for Woodside and four other Adelaide Hills towns of similar size. Property values showed no difference in price trends.

Our interviews and ethnographic observations with residents and real estate agents supported these findings. For example, one vendor who had listed their house the day before the announcement sold at the expected price eight weeks later. There were no reports of people not buying property in the area because of the facility. Initially, following the announcement of the APOD, some people who had their house on the market withdrew it, or, if they had been planning to sell, decided to wait. However, after these initial reactions from some vendors, there were no further incidents of people withdrawing their property or not listing their property once it became clear that prices and demand were not affected.

Rather, local estate agents found a small increase in demand for rental properties, both residential and commercial, which was expected to increase in the future with continuing employment at the facility and to extend to a demand from new employees for buying in the area.

Lessons for other communities

We suggest there are two possible points of interest for other communities in relation to these findings.

First, local-level interventions to enhance employment and business opportunities are important in fostering positive economic outcomes. In Woodside, a policy of local employment and contracts, and the meetings set up by the Commerce Association, were both useful. However, there are other opportunities for enhancing economic outcomes that could also be useful. In particular, skills training programs specifically for local populations, given that facilities such as APODs require particular skill sets in case work, health care and management. In semi-rural or rural areas experiencing a large out-migration of young people to metropolitan areas, these skills programs could focus on this group. Skills training should focus not only on the lower-paid positions like security and cleaning, but on up-skilling the existing population into higher paid career pathways such as management and case work.

Secondly, as well as establishing pathways for economic benefit, it is also important to manage expectations about these benefits. In Woodside, although there were some positive outcomes for local employees and businesses, these were much lower than some residents' expectations. This was particularly the case for those people who were opposed to the centre, but who, on learning it was going ahead, demanded that the local economy be compensated. The comparison between these criteria and the actual economic benefits resulted in continuing feelings of disappointment, resentment and dissatisfaction. In the next section, we identify some of the communication initiatives that were effective in Woodside in countering these kind of misperceptions.

Health services and facilities

Host countries are concerned about the impact of immigrants on health care, particularly that of asylum seekers. Common concerns include immigrants receiving free health care and over-burdening the public health system, thereby increasing the cost of public health and reducing services for citizens (Pickering 2001).

As noted in the introduction, whilst immigrants do not use a disproportionate level of health services, there may be some impact at the local level, particularly for those services assisting asylum seekers. However, this was not the case in Woodside. We found local health services did not experience any unmanageable pressure. Where hospital services were required for births and for accident and emergency, the APOD accessed the Mount Barker Hospital, which is the closest local hospital to Woodside. During the study period there were four babies born in the Mount Barker Hospital from women at Inverbrackie, which comprised only one per cent of all the births at the hospital. There were 18 visits by people at Inverbrackie to the Mt Barker Hospital Accident and Emergency services in 2011. Most of these were in the first six months of the centre opening and have decreased since that time (JSCAIDN 2011). This represents on 0.2 per cent of the 9,183 total hospital admissions at the Mount Barker Hospital (SA Health 2012).

The provision of health services off site was not always straightforward. For example, a local provider initially received patients from Inverbrackie at his local practice during their lunch hour. However, as a result of ongoing complaints from residents that the patients took up all the waiting room and that the bus used the parking space at the front of the surgery, the services were moved onto the APOD site. From our observations and interviews we found that parking and waiting room space were not significantly affected--there were multiple car parking spaces available, the waiting room is small but the timing of the appointments and the number of people was negotiated with the surgery staff to minimise crowding - but the local perceptions and complaints were a significant impact on the surgery, particularly for front desk staff.

However, the mostly minimal impact on health services did not occur by chance. Our research identified three factors which underpinned the outcomes for health providers used by the APOD: onsite health care, size of the need and funding for extra staffing and equipment. The model of health service delivery for the APOD is for most services to be provided onsite. There are onsite services for: a General Practitioner, five Registered Nurses, midwife, dentist and optometrist once a week, two counsellors, three mental health nurses and two psychologists (DIAC 2011a). Other health services were primarily delivered through the local Mount Barker Hospital, through the Royal Adelaide Hospital and Women's and Children's Hospitals in the Adelaide metro area (JSCAIDN 2011). A local pharmacist and physiotherapist also provided goods and services (DIAC 2011b). Although some offsite services are used, the size of the need, and thus the impact, was small. Where extra staff and equipment were needed, in the case of Woodside these were funded by the Commonwealth Government. For example, it financed a midwife position and new equipment for the local birthing clinic (JSCAIDN 2011). This need was identified through meetings between facility management and the hospital and other health providers (JSCAIDN 2011).

Lessons for other communities

This research at Woodside suggests that to avoid pressures on local health care an onsite health care delivery model is preferable. Where offsite providers are used, coordination with local services to identify needs and to supply funding to offset these is vital. Attention to small details such as the size of waiting rooms and the availability of unobtrusive parking is also useful in avoiding conflict.

However, where there is provision for asylum seekers' needs either onsite, in the case of detention facilities, or in a centralised location in the local area, this is likely to fuel perceptions of inequality and unfairness. We compared the health care available to local residents and that available in the APOD, using, for example, data on the number of general practitioners from Primary Health Care Research and Information Service (2010) and the Country Health South Australia (2010). We found minimal differences between the two, with locals receiving more diverse and longer hours of service than asylum seekers, but asylum seekers receiving more specialised mental health services. However, despite the similar access to healthcare, some local residents in our interviews remained concerned about inequality.

There are two possible ways to approach concerns about fairness, both of which were effective in Woodside. The first is education - constant and ongoing, delivered through multiple channels and, crucially, using easy-to-understand comparisons of health care for asylum seekers and for the existing population that directly challenge the misperceptions being voiced. The second is ensuring that any provision for asylum seekers is matched by provisions for the local population. For example, the local hospital used government funds to purchase a new ultrasound machine able to be used by all hospital clients, not only asylum seekers. This offers the possibility of the arrival of asylum seekers becoming a win/win situation, rather than 'us versus them'. These interventions, which brought benefits to the local population, were popular and effective, reducing hostility and increasing positive attitudes towards the facility itself, if not towards asylum seekers.

Social cohesion

As noted in the introduction, as well as holding concerns about negative economic impacts from immigration, people living in receiving countries also fear the impacts of immigration on social cohesion. These fears were also common in Woodside. Residents in our interviews, and as reported in the media, were concerned that ethnic diversity would lead to violence and conflict. Many believed that the asylum seekers would stage violent protests and riots, escape the facility and commit crimes in the local area, and spy on the local army barracks.

However, our research found that although Woodside residents feared the social disruption asylum seekers could bring, in fact the detainees were rarely seen in the town except in specific places--the hospital, the physiotherapists and the schools--and these under controlled circumstances with strong security presence. When the detainees are released, they are moved to metropolitan locations rather than Woodside. The actual demographic makeup of the town's residents--98 per cent white Australians and Europeans--was not affected by the opening of the centre. Our interviews with residents found that, as this became clear over time, the concerns about the local impact of asylum seekers on the town dissipated.

However, as well as concerns about the social disruption from the asylum seekers themselves, residents also expressed concerns about another impact on social cohesion--that of the friction between those opposing the centre and those supporting asylum seekers. This tension began at the two town meetings immediately following the announcement. The meetings were fiery and combative--there was a lot of yelling, loud applause and shouted interruptions. Most of the interruptions were against those who spoke in support of refugees and asylum seekers, whose contributions were drowned out by shouts of 'they're illegal' or 'they're not refugees'. After these meetings, refugee supporters reported in our interviews that they felt alienated from their town. One person said 'I just want to move away, I just don't feel I belong here anymore' and another 'I was embarrassed by how people reacted and the way they were showing Woodside.' However, there were also instances, particularly in letters to the editor and in online comments, where supporters labelled those opposing the centre as racist, hard-hearted and ignorant. These residents in turn then felt that they had been unfairly branded as 'ignorant rednecks'. As found in our interviews, for these people, this resulted in much them feeling unaccepted as well--they 'learned to keep their opinions to themselves'.

These meetings were evidence of immediate divisions into lines of thought. These lines became firmly established and people were identifying each other as 'pro or anti', revealing their political persuasion in a way that they may not have done before. It was felt by some residents that this resulted in a polarisation of positions and views. Neither side was listening to the other, nor were there were spaces in which to foster a more open, respectful dialogue, with letters to the editor and the town meetings precluding long-term and nuanced engagement.

Despite this, most people we interviewed said that in the long term the APOD had not affected their personal relationships significantly. Many said that they rarely spoke about the issue with others. For some, this was important where they knew, or suspected, that others may have a different opinion. Mostly, agreeing to disagree was an important way in which people maintained friendly, neighbourly, professional relationships despite potential differences in political opinion. Others felt it was important to challenge negative opinions, but they sought to do this respectfully.

In general, there was little overt hostility towards employees at the facility, though there were several early incidents of direct confrontation, of people yelling things out their car windows as they drive past the APOD, and giving people at the facility 'the finger'. Some employees avoided wearing identifiable clothing and tags, though others did not. This choice was an individual one, depending on whether they felt there was the possibility of ongoing antagonism; where they did they preferred to avoid that where possible. As with the shopkeepers above, whilst there were not any discernible conflicts, many were aware of the potential and acted pre-emptively to avoid this.

Social discord between residents is far more likely in a place like Woodside which has a small demographic that supports both highly negative and highly positive attitudes towards asylum seekers. This discord, particularly in the early days, can result in open opposition and hostility. This can extend to the facility staff. However, in most cases people are practised in dealing with differences in opinion over political issues, most commonly by avoiding the subject altogether! As the feared outcomes from the facility were not realised, these social and conversational boundaries became less necessary as emotions were diffused.


The negative attitudes fostered by political rhetoric against asylum seekers create significant problems when asylum seekers are housed within communities. Community members are, on the whole, primed by these political messages to expect bogus claimants with criminal records running riot in local towns. They also expect to be economically and socially disadvantaged by their arrival, believing the circulating rumours that asylum seekers receiving disproportionate government funding that reduces resources for others.

An evidence base of impacts is important for informing the debate about asylum seekers and thus reducing rumours and myths about them. It is also useful for informing planning and development that minimises potential negative impacts.

In the research presented here, we sought to document the economic and social impacts of asylum seekers on a South Australian receiving community. As demonstrated in this paper, most community concerns about economic and social impacts were not borne out. There were positive increases in employment and expenditure, and new equipment in the local hospital. Tensions between residents subsided, as did initially strong reactions against the asylum seekers themselves.

However, much of this was due to the government and community interventions put in place either at the opening of the facility or since. We noted the importance of local employment and sourcing local goods and services, as well as government funding for upgrading health services for residents. Time influenced residents' attitudes as well, softening and diffusing them.

The findings presented here are a useful case study for thoughtful consideration by communities who host asylum seekers. However, the social and economic impacts of immigration detention facilities may differ depending on three factors: the existing social and economic conditions, the type of facility, and the interventions undertaken to minimise negative and enhance positive impacts. Woodside is, as noted in the background to this paper, a relatively wealthy semi-rural area with low unemployment. The potential negative impacts, either real or perceived, were likely to be minimal, and there were significant opportunities to enhance the economic structure of the existing community. However, in places with much higher unemployment and long-term social and economic disadvantage, impacts on residents, whether through increased pressure on existing health and education services, through housing distribution, and employment opportunities, may well be greater (Goodall 2010). Similarly, impacts depend on the type of facility. The Inverbrackie APOD houses families and children, whereas higher security immigration detention centres house mostly young males. The APOD allows some access to the town, whereas an IDC allows none, whilst people detained in community schemes are fully embedded into the community. Each of these has different implications for housing needs, health and education services, and for security. However, despite the differences, we found that a focus on creating win/win situations in which both residents and asylum seekers benefitted (for example, the purchasing of new hospital equipment and boosting local employment) was effective. This win/win principle can be adapted to underpin policies and programs in most environments.

In terms of our contribution to existing research, the findings presented here are an initial contribution to a broader focus on understanding community attitudes towards asylum seekers. Whilst there has been some previous research on the social and economic impacts of immigration generally, there has been little on asylum seekers specifically. Given that concerns about impacts seem to be key concerns of communities, it is worthwhile gathering more evidence on these impacts in order to address this issue better--either through providing disconfirming information about negative impacts, or planning to minimise negative impacts where these do occur. Policy-wise, this may mean that community concerns are taken seriously as an important factor in planning for immigration detention facilities. Ironically, as shown by the changes in Woodside residents' attitudes, it may be that well-managed facilities, which bring benefits to the community as well as to the asylum seekers housed in them, become an important space for shifting attitudes at the grassroots.

In an atmosphere in which asylum seekers are consistently vilified, it is unsurprising that communities fear their arrival. It is vital to engage with these concerns about social and economic impacts. Research such as that presented here can be used to effectively target the fears that matter most to the community--either through disseminating information that reduces fears and myths, or through planning and interventions that minimise negative impacts and enhance positive benefits. In this way, the arrival of asylum seekers can potentially become one that benefits all community members.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the funding for the economic and social impact assessments received from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Canberra.

Appendix A: The advertising flier was a poster with a picture of the sign for the town of Woodside and the following text:

Woodside Immigration Detention Facility


Researchers from the University of South Australia are evaluating the impact of the new facility on you and your town.

Can you tell us about the impact on you, your family and community?

Can you chat with us in person, on the phone or online sometime in the next four weeks?

Contact us to get involved: [lead researcher's mobile number and email address]

Appendix B: The survey

Inverbrackie Alternative Place of Detention

Woodside Community Impact Study

Please don't include any personally identifying information in your answers, these questionnaires are anonymous and confidential.

1. Can you tell us your three main concerns about the facility?

2. Can you tell us what the main impact/s of the facility has been on you personally, your family, business or community?

3. Can you give any specific examples of these impacts?

4. Where do you access/how do you receive information about the facility? (e.g. flyers, community/group meetings, media)

5. What would you like to see happen as a result of the facility? (for yourself/family/business/community)

6. Please make any other comments you would like to on the impact of the facility


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Table 1: Total impact of Inverbrackie APOD in the Adelaide Hills

Broad Industry                         Gross       Jobs Created
                                     value added      (no.)
                                     ($ million)

Agriculture                              0.4            5
Mining                                   0.0            0
Manufacturing                            1.1           10
Electricity, gas, water &                0.8            2
  waste services
Construction                             0.2            2
Wholesale trade; retail trade;           4.2           68
  accommodation & food services
Transport, postal and warehousing        0.7            6
Other services                          30.4          369
TOTAL                                   37.9          463

Source: Authors' analysis of economic input-output table data
for the Adelaide Hills area

Table 2: Location of gross number of jobs created in the
Adelaide Hills as a result of the Inverbrackie APOD by
place of work (SLA)

Broad Industry                Adelaide Hills   Adelaide Hills
                               (DC)--North        (DC) Bal

Agriculture                        0.9              1.6

Mining                             0.0              0.0

Manufacturing                      0.8              2.9

Electricity, gas, water and        0.3              0.4
waste services

Construction                       0.3              0.3

Wholesale trade, retail            3.2              9.0
trade, accommodation
and food services

Transport, postal and              0.4              1.5

Other services                     11.9           227.8

TOTAL                              17.8           243.5

Broad Industry                Mount Barker    Mount Barker
                              (DC)--Central     (DC) Bal

Agriculture                        0.5            1.3

Mining                             0.0            0.0

Manufacturing                      4.1            1.2

Electricity, gas, water and        1.1            0.1
waste services

Construction                       0.7            0.3

Wholesale trade, retail           33.9            3.0
trade, accommodation
and food services

Transport, postal and              1.9            0.7

Other services                    70.5            8.4

TOTAL                            112.7           14.9

Broad Industry                Adelaide Hills   Adelaide Hills
                              (DC)--Central     (DC)--Ranges

Agriculture                        0.1              0.7

Mining                             0.0              0.0

Manufacturing                      0.6              0.8

Electricity, gas, water and        0.2              0.2
waste services

Construction                       0.4              0.2

Wholesale trade, retail           14.9              4.2
trade, accommodation
and food services

Transport, postal and              1.1              0.6

Other services                    33.8             16.4

TOTAL                             51.2             23.3

Broad Industry                 Total

Agriculture                     5.1

Mining                          0.1

Manufacturing                  10.4

Electricity, gas, water and     2.3
waste services

Construction                    2.3

Wholesale trade, retail        68.1
trade, accommodation
and food services

Transport, postal and           6.1

Other services                368.9

TOTAL                         463.2

Source: Authors' analysis of economic input-output table data
for the Adelaide Hills area
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Author:Every, Danielle; Whetton, Steve; Rainbird, Sophia; Halim, Suraya Abdul; Procter, Nicholas; Sebben, B
Publication:Australian Journal of Social Issues
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 14, 2013
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