Detention practice not part of policy, say advocates
Sydney Morning Herald
December 20, 2008
FASTER processing of asylum seekers, rather than opening the prison-like $396 million detention centre on Christmas Island, is the answer to the detention-housing shortage there, refugee advocates say.
The continuing detention of asylum seekers on Christmas Island and the decision to open the Howard-era centre raised “fundamental concerns” about the Federal Government's commitment to its “detention as a last resort” policy, said David Manne, of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre.
Eleven weeks after being taken into custody, the first group of seven unauthorised boat arrivals is still in detention on Christmas Island. Mr Manne said the policy, set out by the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, in July, was supposed to make detention a final, not first, option – for health, identity and security checks to establish if they posed a risk to the community.
“There is a danger this Government is swapping a 'Pacific solution' for an 'Indian Ocean solution',” said Mr Manne, who is representing 10 Afghan asylum seekers on the third boat, which was intercepted on November 19. “It's a complete mystery why those who arrived by boat remain in detention.”
The first of this year's boats carrying asylum seekers was intercepted near Ashmore Island on September 29 and arrived at Christmas Island on October 2, 11 weeks ago. Since then, another six boats have arrived, bringing to 160 the number of asylum seekers to be detained on Christmas Island.
Mr Manne said: “My understanding is they have undergone these checks; the policy puts the onus on the Government to say why they should be detained. Why are these people still being detained?”
Susan Meyer, co-ordinator of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, which is helping asylum seekers from the first two boats, agreed with Mr Manne. “Eleven weeks is too long. I don't know why they are not releasing the people who have been processed.”
Senator Evans said the Government had made it clear that all unauthorised boat arrivals would be detained and processed at Christmas Island while health, identity and security checks were undertaken. “While health assessments are usually completed within a week, security and identity checks can take time.”
Senator Evans said the 14 people from two boats that arrived in late September and early October would shortly be released from detention to live in the community while their asylum claims were processed.
The Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes, said it was valid to hold people in detention for initial checks, but in most cases that should take a couple of weeks. Two months was “above the reasonable period”. He supported the Government's “detention as a last resort” policy but said “let's see it in practice”.
Three asylum seekers at the Phosphate Hill detention centre on Christmas Island escaped briefly yesterday before being recaptured.