SYDNEY - Two of Australia’s nine high-security immigration detention centers are being closed in what the government says is a vindication of its tough border protection policies.
Ministers say the facilities are no longer needed because they have stopped asylum-seekers, who often risk their lives on unseaworthy vessels, from trying to reach Australia by sea.
But the network of detention centers also has a troubled history, including escapes and hunger strikes.
In September last year, riots broke out at an immigration facility 95 kilometers east of Perth after a suicide attempt by a detainee.
However, the Perth center isn’t being closed. The government is closing a high-security center in Melbourne, and another in Sydney will shut later this year.
Milestone or deception?
The center-right government says the closures are a “milestone” in its efforts to protect Australia’s borders, unlike the opposition Labor Party when it was last in power.
“These immigration detention centers have been closed and are able to be closed because this government has got Australia’s borders under control,” said Immigration Minister David Coleman. “Labor opened 17 detention centers. We have closed 19.”
But Noosheen Mogadam from the Asylum Seeker Resource Center insists the government is being deceptive by simply transferring detainees and increasing capacity at other facilities.
“It seems as though people will be shuffled along to other detention centers. It is not solving any problems,” Mogadam said.
Since 2013, the Australian navy has been ordered to turn back migrant boats, a policy that critics say is illegal under international law. Asylum-seekers arriving by sea have also been warned that they will never be allowed to settle in Australia.
Hundreds still held
About 1,250 detainees are currently held in Australia’s mainland immigration camps. Most are from Iran, New Zealand and Vietnam. In 2013, there were 10,000 detainees.
Several hundred migrants remain in an offshore camp funded by Canberra on the Pacific island of Nauru.
The mandatory detention of asylum-seekers without valid visas was introduced in Australia in 1992 in response to a wave of boat arrivals from Southeast Asia.