Island plan rekindles child detention fears
The Age (Melbourne)
November 25, 2006
THE Federal Government's $336 million detention centre on Christmas Island will include classrooms, children's play areas and an area for babies, despite official statements that women and children will be held in immigration detention only as a last resort.
Plans for the 800-person centre, to be completed by mid-next year, include several classrooms, including one designated “preschool”.
Refugee advocates have expressed alarm, saying the centre is an unnecessary, expensive and inhumane response to a problem that no longer exists, given the small number of unauthorised arrivals since 2003.
They also say the provision for a large number of children raises the prospect that children may be housed in the centre for extended periods.
“It breaches the agreement they made with (Liberal MP) Petro Georgiou because Christmas Island is part of Australia and this is a detention centre,” says Pamela Curr, of the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in West Melbourne.
Ms Curr said the plans showed that the centre would be “the highest-security detention centre ever built in Australia”.
“There is no maximum-security prison (in Australia) that has electric fences, microwave probes, cameras with microphones in every room, electric doors and a direct link to the control room in Canberra,” she said. “On top of that is the isolation. It's at the far end of an island that is 24 kilometres long, surrounded by impenetrable cliffs. What's the point of all this security?”
Immigration Department officials told a recent Senate hearing that the centre would process unauthorised boat arrivals who made it to the Australian mainland.
Those who are intercepted on offshore islands, such as a recent group of Burmese asylum seekers, are to be processed on Nauru, with no recourse to the Australian legal system.
An official denied to The Age that the provision for children at the Christmas Island centre breached the agreement reached in June last year with backbenchers led by Mr Georgiou. Under the agreement, families and children would be placed in detention as a last resort.
“You need to bear in mind the plans for the centre were drawn up well before the changes to families and children's detention arrangements introduced last year,” the official said.
“Within the new centre, there will be the capacity to house anyone, depending what the circumstances were but, again, children would only be detained as a last resort.”
Children, like those with the group of Papuan refugees processed on Christmas Island earlier this year, were now housed in the community and the intention would be to continue this approach when the new centre opened, the official said.