Young Refugees Taken Off Island

Young refugees taken off island

By Daniel Flitton
The Sydney Morning Herald, December 23, 2009

Thirty Afghan youths seeking asylum in Australia have been moved to the mainland from Christmas Island to reduce overcrowding in the island's detention centre.

The unaccompanied minors, all believed to be male, will remain in legal limbo while their asylum claims are processed by the Department of Immigration.

They will be held in a secure facility in Broadmeadows in Melbourne, where 10 Afghan boys were sent in September before receiving visas to stay.

The Christmas Island detention centre is so crowded that tents are being used to accommodate some of the 1432 people. The centre was designed for 800.

Yesterday 35 Indonesians who crewed boats to bring asylum seekers to Australia were moved from Christmas Island to a detention centre in Darwin. A separate family group of three was sent earlier this week to an immigration centre in Brisbane.

New arrivals in recent weeks have continued to swell the number of people detained on the island. Two boats – one carrying 55 passengers and four crew, the other with 55 people – were intercepted last week by Australian coastal patrols.

The Opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said the Federal Government should not be watering down Australia's policy to process asylum seeker claims offshore.

''The Government should be seeking to identify alternative offshore processing options if they cannot accommodate people on Christmas Island,'' Mr Morrison said. ''It sends an appalling message to people smugglers, which says that they can now get their customers all the way to the mainland.''

He also said the decision opened a ''murky legal area'' that could give rise to the prospect of asylum-seekers on the mainland challenging detention in the courts.

Refugee advocates welcomed the move of the Afghan youths, but questioned the need to keep them in detention.

''It's a commonsense and humane step to bring unaccompanied minors from what's really harsh and unnecessary treatment in remote detention on Christmas Island,'' David Manne, co-ordinator of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said.

''But I'm at a complete loss to understand why it is necessary to lock up in the suburbs of Melbourne children who fled persecution and are about to be granted protection.''

In a written statement to questions from the Herald, a spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said bringing the Afghan youths to Melbourne allowed them to be given ''priority processing''.

The Christmas Island centre has accommodation for 1400 detainees. An extra 160 beds are in tents erected around the centre, and another 200 beds are expected in temporary demountable units by the end of the month.