Christmas Island is full; the Red Block is over-stuffed; the Rudd Government’s promises and policies over refugees are in tatters. Out of this unholy mess, Marie Gordon writes, at least we can have the decency to transfer refugee children and infants, with their carers, to the mainland.
Ocean hellhole bulges with refugees
By Marie Gordon
In late November 09 more asylum-seeker boats carrying about 150 people were intercepted heading for north-west Australia’s Ashmore Reef, with crew and passengers taken to the already overcrowded Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre.
The asylum seekers included men, women, children and infants. Where are they going to put them? And the ones still coming? CIDC was built to house 800 detainees. At end-November the government had squeezed in 1200.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd plans to expand the capacity of CI. This is the man who vowed to shut down this detention centre, the legacy of former PM John Howard.
If the detention centre itself is overcrowded, the Red Block is stuffed. The six protesters now in isolation in the Red Block, sleep in small metal cells built by the Howard Government to hold the most dangerous or unstable detainees. Resource centre coordinator, Pamela Curr, when shown the Red Block before it opened last year, was told it would never be used.
The recent fighting among inmates was inevitable. They are damaged and desperate people even before beginning their horrendous boat trips. Hundreds of prisoners in the centre have been there for seven months, with no sign of being finally processed.
Among the detainees living in what has been called, with good reason, a hellhole, are Afghans, Hazaras, Kurds, Vietnamese, Palestinians, Iranians, Burmese, Rohingyas, and both Tamils and Singalese from Sri Lanka.
A refugee and immigration legal centre lawyer said Labor had failed to implement its own detention reforms because it was impossible to do so on Christmas Island. And the government has also backtracked over their ‘no children in detention’ promise.
The Refugee Coordinator for Amnesty in Australia, Dr Graham Thom, has berated the government over its treatment of the 68 children (41 of them unaccompanied minors) in detention on CI, living in tiny bedrooms in tiny demountables inside a fenced-in area. They are under constant guard.
If, as Dr Thom says, children were detained under those conditions on the mainland, there would be outrage in the Australian community. The irony of it is that our Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, has rejected all the statements – including those relating to the inhumane conditions the children endure – of Human Rights Commission President Cathy Branson. If the Minister, who is supposed to be in charge, doesn’t accept the truth when it is spelled out to him, the sooner he loses his job, the better.
Those children must be taken to the mainland.
– Marie Gordon, CLA member, Canberra ACT
Note: According to the UNHCR 2008 Global Trends report, there were 42 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide at the end of 2008, including 15.2 million refugees. Since September 2008, the Australian Federal Police have charged 63 people with offences under the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), including 58 alleged crew members and five alleged Australian-based organisers. These offences attract a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.