04 May 2012

Australian immigration authorities obstructed detention centre visit

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A refugee advocacy group has accused Australian immigration authorities of being deliberately obstructive during a visit to a remote detention centre in Western Australia.

Australian immigration

Detaining children in immigration centres is a controversial issue.

The Leonora Detention Centre, located approximately 900km from Perth, currently holds around 140 male teen aged asylum seekers. A representative from advocacy group ChilOut was supposed to investigate the conditions at the facility but reportedly encountered difficulties from Australian immigration staff.

The investigation is part of the initiation of a month-long campaign known as 'End the Immigration Detention of Children' but has gotten off to a controversial start.

Sophie Peer, campaign director at ChilOut said she was promised 'unmonitored, one-on-one' access to the detainees during a three day visit to the centre but was prevented from doing so despite the boys, mostly of Afghan origin, reportedly becoming frustrated from boredom and depression.

Ms Peer said one boy who had been in detention for four months and was visibly distressed was particularly concerning.

"His comments to me were things like 'I see boys come and go'. He's quite right, because the average time in Leonora is more like two to three months so I don't know why he's there longer and I will follow that up."

Ms Peer said as she was prevented from being alone with detainees, she could not get a genuine observation.

"It's the type of questions I can't ask in front of a guard and can't ask in front of a group of boys, that I would be able to ask in a more relaxed setting.

"You can't start asking about people's families. You can't start asking how you are actually feeling. That's just not appropriate in a group setting, with a bunch of teenage boys of any culture and particularly of the Afghan culture."

Conditions in Australia's detention centres have remained a controversial topic in Australian politics since overcrowding led to riots in a Sydney detention centre in 2011. While conditions have somewhat improved since then, an Amnesty International inspection in February of this year led to the recommendation that the Curtin Detention Centre should be closed immediately, although in that case, Amnesty International praised authorities for their co-operation.

The government has responded to Ms Peer's claims by saying attempts are made to grant all detainees in Leonora a temporary Australia visa and move them into community detention within a month.

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