Villawood To Be Knocked Down

Villawood to be knocked down

Yuko Narushima
Sydney Morning Herald
January 18, 2009

THE ageing and cramped Villawood detention centre will be knocked down, with a new facility to be built on Commonwealth land either close to the existing site or the airport.

The latter option is preferable because of the large number of people who are refused entry to Australia and are detained for one or two days before flying out of the country.

Funding for the new centre is expected in next year's Budget following a $1.1 million redevelopment study that is close to being finalised and believed to say the existing centre is no longer viable.

Villawood's maximum security zone, known as Stage 1, was attacked again last week in a report by the Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes.

Mr Innes said Villawood remained the most “prison-like” of all the detention centres on the mainland and should be demolished as a matter of urgency.

“It is shameful, not only that it remains standing but that people are still being detained there in its utterly miserable conditions.

“The buildings are ageing and dilapidated. The dormitory bedrooms are cramped and almost completely lacking in privacy. There is no grassy outdoor space for sports. The dining room and the visitors' facilities are both bleak and inhospitable.”

Minister for Immigration Chris Evans last year described Villawood as “unacceptable” but is yet to act on conditions in the centre.

The Labor MP for the federal seat of Blaxland, Jason Clare, said a redevelopment of Villawood was essential and Stage 1 should be bulldozed. Possible new sites include Commonwealth land abutting the existing site, near the Villawood train station, or close to the airport to assist with the large load of turnaround cases.

Villawood was recently given $7 million to improve visitor facilities and detainee accommodation but refurbishment beyond that at the current site is unlikely.

Villawood began as a migrant hostel in the 1950s. At that time, it housed assisted migrants and people displaced by World War II, mostly from Europe and Britain. It is remembered for its corrugated iron Nissen huts, one of which remains on site today.

The national co-ordinator for advocacy group A Just Australia, Kate Gauthier, said Villawood should return to that community style of accommodation.