In a move that has been criticised, the changes will also see the federal government open two new detention centres – one in Northam, 80 kilometres north-east of Perth, and another at Inverbrackie, 37 kilometres north of Adelaide. According to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Northam will house up to 1500 single men and Inverbrackie will house up to 400 family members.
These new sites will mean that the government can close temporary accommodation, including tents being used on Christmas Island, and some motels. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says that most children and families will be out of detention by the end of next June, and that children will be required to attend school. Families that have experienced trauma, torture, pregnant women, and those who are mental health risks will be given priority.
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Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is a big issue for expats. Australians living abroad want to be proud of their country when they’re away, and how these issues are handled reflects on each of us. Mat Hines, London Campaign co-ordinator for Australian Greens, told Australian Times last month that “expats will be watching closely to see how the new government deals with international issues such as asylum seekers.”
In a press conference Prime Minister Julia Gillard told media “when we came to government we issued detention values about not having children in high security, behind razor wire, and obviously we have worked to deliver on those detention values.” She went on to say, “obviously we want to see kids in school. I understand that in some particular cases the Minister will work through this case by case, there may be some reasons why this may not always be possible, but in the ordinary course of things I want to see kids getting a good education.”
Gillard says that the government want to “appropriately process people and return those with no legitimate claim”.
According to the Immigration Department there are currently 4000 men, 319 women and 738 children under 18 living in detention. Sydney Morning Herald reports that 382 of those under 18 arrived without their parents.
Reactions to the changes has been mixed, with the Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul telling ABC that opening more detention centres is disgraceful.
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"Their proposal is community-based detention, it’s about detention, not actually allowing people to live freely in the community," he said. "Secondly, they’re talking about it’s going to take them until June 2011 even to deal with the present number of families and unaccompanied minors, so that’s just a disgrace."
However, the Refugee Council of Australia’s Paul Power said that moving children and their families into community-based accommodation is a welcome change.
"Many of the people who are currently being held in immigration detention centres do not actually need to be detained, and in fact are being damaged by the process of detention."
Amnesty International believe moving families and children into the community is positive, but does not welcome the opening of two more detention centres.
"As Amnesty International has highlighted time and again, Australia is the only country to mandatorily detain asylum seekers in this way," Amnesty’s refugee coordinator Graham Thom told ABC.
In addition to the new detention centres, the Government revealed plans to expand the Darwin Airport Lodge to hold 400 asylum seekers, and also alluded to two other sites that may be expanded in the future – the 11 Mile Antenna Farm near Darwin, and the Melbourne Immigration Transit accommodation centre.