Christmas Island Exodus To Mainland

Christmas Island Exodus to Mainland

By Paul Maley and Paige Taylor
The Australian, June 4, 2010

More than 700 Afghan and Sri Lankan boatpeople could be flown from Christmas Island in what would be the largest transfer of asylum-seekers from the island to the mainland so far.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said officials would begin transferring asylum-seekers subject to the Rudd government's suspension of new Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum claims.

Senator Evans said about 600 Afghans and 150 Sri Lankans on Christmas Island were affected by the freeze.

The government announced in April that new Sri Lankan applications would be frozen for three months and new Afghan claims would be frozen for six months.

Senator Evans said the intention was to take single males to the Curtin detention facility in Western Australia.

'It is our intention to take that cohort, probably in the first instance to Curtin where we're increasing our capacity,' Senator Evans told the ABC. 'But we'll obviously make judgments based on individuals. We've always taken people who are vulnerable, or particular issues, and treated them in a different way. So if we have people with health problems or torture and trauma problems, we'll handle them differently.'

The Australian has been told the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has organised several charter flights to move large numbers of asylum-seekers from Christmas Island to Curtin air base and Leonora from next Sunday.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department said yesterday it did not comment on operational matters.

The spokesman said the Curtin facility, in remote Western Australia, would accommodate 200-300 people initially.

The transfer to the mainland is partly in response to chronic overcrowding on Christmas Island.

The departmental spokesman said yesterday a total of 2436 people were being held on the island, just under its current maximum capacity of about 2500.

In an effort to ease the growing pressure on Christmas Island, the government recently announced it would begin transferring people to the mainland.

But the constant transfers have created corresponding pressures, with some mainland detention centres now full.

On Wednesday, Senator Evans acknowledged things were tight.

But he said that the shortage of facilities was most acute in the area of family accommodation, due largely to the practices of the Howard years.

'Those sorts of facilities were not provided by the Howard government,' Senator Evans said.

'They're not built, and so what we've got to do is try and find suitable sites, facilities that allow us to care for those people and care for them as families and treat them appropriately.'