News / Asia

Mothballed Camps Reopen as Australia Struggles With Surge in Illegal Immigrants

Sri Lankan children wave as they and other ethnic Tamil migrants leave the Merak seaport in Banten province by bus bound for a detention facility as they finally agreed to be relocated, 19 Apr 2010
Sri Lankan children wave as they and other ethnic Tamil migrants leave the Merak seaport in Banten province by bus bound for a detention facility as they finally agreed to be relocated, 19 Apr 2010

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Refugee groups call Australia's decision to re-open mothballed immigration detention centers an abuse of human rights. The government is re-opening a facility in Western Australia to house Sri Lankans and Afghans whose applications for refugee status have been suspended. Other facilities are also being readied as Australia's offshore processing center on Christmas Island reaches its capacity.

Australian officials plan to move scores of asylum seekers off Christmas Island to ease overcrowding at the detention camp there.

Single men will be taken to a facility in the northern city of Darwin, while a group of children traveled by boat to Australia without their parents will be taken to community housing in South Australia.

Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers who have had their refugee applications suspended pending a review of security in both countries will be housed at the Curtin air force base in Western Australia.

The immigration camp at Curtin was closed in 2002. Before it closed, it was the scene of protests, attempted suicides and a mass break-out by detainees.

Refugee advocates say conditions at the renovated site will be as bad as they were in the past.

Kate Gauthier from the Refugee Council of Australia worries that the remote location will cause unnecessary stress to detainees. "If these people are coming from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan you can be absolutely sure some of them are torture and trauma survivors who've faced horrific experiences. They need to be given good services and very humane accommodation while they wait for this unfortunate halt in the processing of their protection visa claims," she said.

The Christmas Island detention center is over capacity, and there are reports of rising tension among the hundreds of detainees there. A small group of Iraqis began a hunger strike last Friday to protest the length of time they have been held in custody.

Conservative opposition politicians accuse the Labor government of fueling a surge in illegal arrivals through a soft policy, accusations the government rejects.

Australia resettles about 13,000 refugees annually under official international humanitarian programs. Those who enter the country illegally, however, are generally detained on Christmas Island while their applications for asylum are processed.

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