No Deal Was Done With Detainees : Bowen

No deal was done with detainees: Bowen

September 22, 2010

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the federal government did not do a deal with 11 asylum seekers to convince them to end their protest at a Sydney detention centre.

The group of 11 men, who were refusing to get off the roof of the Villawood facility, ended their 30-hour stand-off with Australian authorities on Tuesday night and came down safely.

Mr Bowen said he had “absolutely not” cut them a deal, although a meeting with the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) was organised for the group once they had descended the rooftop.

“They made it clear that if Australia wasn't going to accept their claim, then they wanted to have a meeting with UNHCR to discuss their options,” he told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

“The UNHCR was happy to talk to them about the situation.”

Mr Bowen conceded Australian detention centres were under pressure but stressed protests were not about conditions inside the facilities, but rather the claims process itself.

“I'd like to see claims processed more quickly,” he said.

“There are a number of matters which have led to the pressure on our detention centres: it's not only the increased number of boat arrivals, it's also the increased rejection rate.”

More rejections means people stay in detention longer as they try and appeal the decision, and the government has also suspended the processing of refugee claims from Afghan asylum seekers, meaning they have to languish in centres until that changes.

Mr Bowen defended the claims assessment processes in place.

“I understand that emotions run very high when it comes to asylum claims, but it is down to our officials and our tribunals to determine the cases on all the facts before them.”

The Villawood protest was sparked on Monday after Josefa Rauluni, a 36-year-old Fijian man who was facing deportation, apparently killed himself earlier in the day at the centre.

Mr Bowen said the incident followed the rejection of his refugee claim and the exhaustion of all avenues of appeal.

He ruled out intervening in Mr Rauluni's nephew's case, who is believed to be in detention at the facility too.

The immigration minister will soon be touring Australia's detention centres to better understand the issues surrounding them and leaves for Christmas Island later on Wednesday.

He said he hoped the situation in Villawood would now return to “normal”.