Friday, December 26, 2008


Ronan O'Connell, smh

December 26, 2008

STAFF at Christmas Island's main detention centre have been told to prepare for the arrival of about 70 more boat people in what would be the biggest single influx into Australian territory this year.

It is understood that staff at the $400 million North West Point detention centre have been told that the refugees could arrive within a week. They would bring to about 150 the number of asylum seekers to be transported to the island in the space of a month.

A week ago, 37 people were taken to the remote Indian Ocean island and less than two weeks before that 44 people, believed to be from Afghanistan, were transported there.

The total would be more than the 148 illegal immigrants intercepted at sea in all of last year.

The RAAF has at least three P3 Orion aircraft at Exmouth in Western Australia conducting regular surveillance, and a navy patrol boat has been anchored off Christmas Island.

At present 171 asylum seekers and illegal boat crew are being held on Christmas Island, with 113 of them housed in the North West Point detention centre, which was opened last week.

The construction camp on the island houses 29 refugees and one boat crew member, while the Phosphate Hill camp is empty after its occupants were shifted to North West Point.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration said the detainees would be placed in community accommodation once health, identity and security checks had been completed.

Twenty-eight asylum seekers live in the community and are allowed to move freely throughout the island.

The 171 asylum seekers and boat crew are made up of Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, Sri Lankans and Indonesians.

A spokesman for the Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, would not deny that the Government was expecting the arrival of more boat people in the coming days.

However, a spokesman for the Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, said he was not aware of any impending arrival.

The Rudd Government has softened its stance on the detention of asylum seekers by abolishing temporary protection visas and ending the so-called Pacific solution introduced under John Howard.

Its moves against hard-line detention are believed to be behind the initial reluctance to open the new Christmas Island centre that was commissioned by the Howard Government following the Tampa affair in 2001.

Refugee advocates have complained that the continuing detention of asylum seekers on Christmas Island and the decision to open the centre raised concerns about the Rudd Government's commitment to its police of "detention as a last resort".

Senator Evans has said that all unauthorised boat arrivals would be detained and processed at Christmas Island while health, identity and security checks are carried out.

The West Australian