Old casino plan to ease Christmas Island crush
Paige Taylor, Christmas Island
Article from: The Australian
April 29, 2009
THE Rudd Government is contemplating leasing Christmas Island's mothballed five-star resort casino to accommodate the number of officials needed to process the increasing population of asylum seekers on the island.
The expected arrival on Saturday of a further 54 asylum seekers and two crew will bring the number of people detained on the island to 465 since September, when the recent run of asylum-seeker boats began.
It is a far cry from 2007, when two Vietnamese brothers were the only occupants of the island's old detention centre for much of the year.
The new $400 million centre is still well below its maximum capacity of 800, or the 400 it can hold comfortably. But the influx of asylum seekers – there are now 234 detainees in various forms of detention – has created logistical challenges for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship as it tries to accommodate more than 150 staff, contractors, investigators and service providers on the tiny island of 1200.
As a possible solution, the Government is considering leasing the resort casino, which has 156 rooms. The Christmas Island Casino Resort was one of the world's most profitable, but it closed in 1998 when Indonesian owner Robby Sumampow was bankrupted during Asia's economic meltdown.
Islanders have grown accustomed to sharing the 134sqkm island with a detention-related workforce; there were up to 300 fly-in, fly-out workers on the island at all times between 2005 and 2007 during construction of the new detention centre.
Tourist operators fear the Government's appetite for accommodation could leave little for holiday makers.
Singapore-based Eco Adventures owner Timothy Tan said the island had enormous potential and could carve a strong future for itself as an eco-tourist destination, but it needed more good-quality accommodation, such as the resort.
Mr Tan sent about 140 tourists, mostly divers, to the island each year and estimated he could send 240 a year.
“It is a fascinating place, and now with flights out of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore each week, I could send a lot more people their way,” Mr Tan said.
“There needs to be some changes, more places to eat, more dive businesses, more places to stay.”
There are 40 asylum seekers – all family groups – living at the island's construction camp.
And there are 33 asylum seekers living in community detention on the island, including unaccompanied minors who live with paid guardians.
Since September, 138 asylum seekers delivered to Christmas Island have been granted permanent protection visas and resettled on the mainland.