Christmas Island Detention Crisis Threatens Kevin Rudd’s Team Unity

Christmas Island detention crisis threatens Kevin Rudd's team unity

Ian McPhedran
From: Herald Sun
March 19, 2010 12:00AM

DEEP divisions are emerging in the Rudd Government over the fate of hundreds of boat people as tensions at the Christmas Island detention centre hit crisis point.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans and officials have been warning Kevin Rudd for months that the centre could explode into riots if people were not moved out to relieve the sardine-like congestion.

“Hundreds of people are living in tents and tents burn,” a well-placed source said.

“Desperate people do foolish things.”

There are 239 asylum seekers living under canvas on the island. There are more than 300 staff on allowances of $200 a day each, a total of $1.8 million a month, overseeing the centre.

Millions of taxpayer dollars are also being spent on charter flights, interpreter services, contractors and staff costs.

The Darwin Coroner's inquiry into the SIEV 36 tragedy that left five boat people dead and several others, and several Navy personnel, badly injured, highlighted the desperation of people travelling to Australia in leaky boats.

With two large refugee boats heading for Australian waters, officials fear that when the “No Vacancy” sign goes up on Christmas Island (just 140 spare beds), there will be a panicked reaction from the Prime Minister's office.

“They will have to send people to Darwin, there will be a scramble and mistakes will be made,” a source said.

More than 35 Sri Lankans and Afghanis were injured in a brawl at the centre in November and officials fear a worse outbreak is overdue.

Despite a mountain of advice to the contrary, the Government has refused to relax its policy on processing all arrivals at Christmas Island for legal reasons.

About 300 asylum seekers in the latter stages of the approval process will be shifted to Darwin when the larger boats arrive. The island was excised from Australian territorial law by the Howard government.

Senator Evans said the Government would use the 500 beds at Darwin “for the final stages of processing … “.

The latest charter flight on Saturday of 35 Afghanis pushed the island centre's population to 2042.


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