Boat People Won’t Miss Out On Festive Cheer

Boat people won't miss out on festive cheer

Nicolas Perpitch
The Australian
December 24, 2008

MORE than 100 asylum-seekers and illegal boat crew will be given special meals, “culturally appropriate” presents, play soccer and volleyball and sing karaoke as they spend Christmas in the newly opened $400million high-security detention centre on Christmas Island.

The Immigration Department said it would help the 113 inmates from the Middle East and central and south Asia celebrate the Christian holiday with an evening barbecue.

The 800-bed North West Point centre was opened last week after a boat carrying 37 people was stopped by the Royal Australian Navy 200km northeast of Broome.

It was the seventh boat intercepted in the past three months and brought to 164 the number of unauthorised people arriving by boat this year, up on 148 last year.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans had been reluctant to open the new centre, which he said had been “inherited” from the Howard government. But he gave the approval last week after the arrival of the seventh boat and to separate groups for health, identity and security screening.

The 74 asylum-seekers and eight crew who were being detained at Christmas Island's Phosphate Hill camp have been moved to the North West Point centre. They were joined by 31 of the 37 people from the boat stopped last week near Darwin.

The other six people from that boat, five juveniles and one crew member, have been sent to the island's lower security Construction Camp, which already houses 23 other people.

Another 28 people are housed in community accommodation.

The asylum-seekers and boat crew on the island are a mixture of Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Sri Lankans and Indonesians.

Only single male detainees are being held at the centre, but Pamela Curr from the Asylum Centre Resource Centre said even that was too much.

“My concern is that even the minister and the department have said the centre is so appalling that they will not put women and children and family men in it, and yet they are locking up single men,” Ms Curr said. “What's the difference? They are still human beings.”

Christmas Island Chamber of Commerce president John Richardson said asylum-seekers were good for jobs and business.

“They bring jobs and they bring a good cash flow to the island, so you won't get a lot of heat from the business community,” Mr Richardson said.

The Rudd Government has rejected criticism that its changes to Australia's border protection arrangements — including abandoning the Pacific Solution and abolishing temporary protection visas for refugees — had contributed to greater numbers of boat arrivals.

Senator Evans has attributed an increase in people-smuggling to greater instability in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.