Australia Shuts Immigration Camp

Australia shuts immigration camp

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney
Last Updated: Monday, 20 August 2007, 11:08 GMT

Australia has closed a controversial immigration detention centre that has seen violent demonstrations and suicide attempts by asylum seekers.

The government said the decision to shut the Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia reflected its success at stopping illegal immigration.

Refugee activists insist the closure of the camp had ended a “shameful period in Australian history”.

Campaigners held a vigil outside the centre as it was decommissioned.

They were there to remember what they said was “the suffering and trauma” the facility had inflicted on countless inmates.

The isolated camp near Port Augusta, north of Adelaide, opened five years ago.

It was part of an uncompromising policy towards asylum seekers, especially those that arrived by boat from Indonesia.

They were automatically locked away while their claims for refugee status were investigated.

'Grotesque Orwellian invention'

The centre once housed several thousand detainees behind its electric fences.

It was beset by demonstrations, hunger strikes and suicide attempts.

Australia's conservative government now believes it has the upper hand in its fight against illegal immigration, and has said that Baxter is no longer needed.

Ministers have insisted their current policy of sending boat people to a camp on the tiny South Pacific republic of Nauru has been a powerful deterrent.

Keeping asylum seekers away from the Australian mainland is seen by the government as an efficient way of protecting its borders.

That approach is being reinforced by the construction of another offshore processing centre on Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.

One refugee activist has described the project as “a grotesque Orwellian invention”.

The 12 remaining detainees at the Baxter facility will be transferred to other centres.

Some of the buildings at Baxter will be moved to Australia's Northern Territory as part of a programme to combat child abuse in indigenous communities.