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Australia Moves Asylum Seekers to Troubled Detention Center

  • Phil Mercer

Australia's government is moving asylum seekers from an immigration processing camp on Christmas Island to a detention center on the Australian mainland that has seen a number of escapes.

The migrants were detained on Christmas Island after arriving in Australian territory illegally by sea. They did not qualify for asylum in Australia and are now awaiting deportation.

Three detainees escaped Sydney's Villawood Immigration Detention Center Monday by climbing a fence. Immigration officials say the men are Chinese nationals. Their escape follows four others in the past month, including a detainee who strapped himself to the bottom of a truck and a man from Ghana who fled after being let out to attend a church service.

The escapes happened even though Villawood posted extra staff to cope with growing numbers of detained migrants.

So far, 89 men from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka have been transferred to Villawood. The men were among hundreds captured over the past year trying to sneak into Australia by sea.

The decision to move rejected asylum seekers to the Australian mainland angers conservative politicians.

The opposition's spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, said bringing migrants to the Australian mainland is risky because courts have not yet ruled whether or not their legal status changes if they set foot on the mainland.

"That is true for these 89 and it's true for every other person who's been transferred before the process has run its course," he said.

Thirty boat loads of suspected asylum seekers have arrived in Australian waters so far this year. The government says unrest in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq is driving the surge in illegal arrivals.

Government critics argue that Australia is seen as a soft target for the criminal gangs that operate a lucrative trade in ferrying potential refugees.

Australia resettles about 13,000 people under global humanitarian programs every year.