Accessibility links

Australia Continues Search for Fugitive Asylum Seekers - 2002-07-01

The search for escapees from Australia's Woomera immigration detention center has continued for a fourth day, as a number of recaptured asylum seekers appeared in court. Ten detainees are still on the run after fleeing the remote desert camp in a mass break-out.

Thirty-five asylum seekers escaped from the troubled Woomera camp during a night-time break-out last week. Twenty-five were recaptured.

Twenty appeared Monday before magistrates in the city of Port Augusta charged with escaping from custody. The defendants have been ordered to court again Thursday. Most are Afghans and were facing deportation from Australia after their applications for political asylum were rejected.

Ten asylum seekers are still on the run and have endured freezing conditions in the South Australian outback.

There are suggestions here in Australia that the fugitives have been spirited away to major cities by sympathizers. In March, 50 asylum seekers broke out of Woomera, again with the help of refugee activists, who tore down perimeter fences.

Meanwhile, inside the Woomera detention camp a hunger strike by more than a hundred detainees has entered a second week. Some are reported to be children.

In Adelaide, a special government-appointed human rights commission met to look into the treatment of children in detention. The body will make recommendation to Parliament by the end of the year. Lawyers, acting for many of the Woomera detainees, are calling for an end to the detention of children in immigration camps.

Tina Dalgopol, from the pressure group Action for Children, has told the commission that the immigration minister should hand over responsibility for children to a separate, non-government agency. "One of the recommendations Action for Children has put to the inquiry this morning is that there should be an independent body to make an assessment about care and protection issues. And that they should have the ultimate power in deciding whether a child is in need of care and protection and the minister should cede authority in this area and should be willing to abide the decision of that independent authority," he said.

The mandatory detention of asylum seekers, including children, lies at the heart of Australia's controversial stance on illegal immigration. Anyone arriving here claiming asylum is automatically detained in prison-like immigration facilities.

They are locked away for months and even years until their applications are processed. The policy is popular with most Australians, but has attracted some stinging criticism from the international community as well as human rights groups and the United Nations.