05 January 2012

Australian immigration department sets up system to reward refugees

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The Australian immigration department along with its contractor Serco have set up a system based on behaviour to reward and punish detainees in an attempt to manage a detainee population which has ballooned in the wake of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Malaysia Solution collapse.

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Detainees of Australia's detention centre are being shuttled around the country depending on their behaviour.

The Prime Minister's original intention was to divert asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat to Malaysia in exchange for accepting refugees already in Malaysia. However, the plan was shelved after a High Court decision, possibly due to Malaysia's poor record on human rights which has drawn criticism from Amnesty International and other human rights charities.

Now, efforts within the Australian immigration department are being made to manage the current asylum seeker population more efficiently with detainees deemed 'low risk' being permitted to swap the scorching heat of the Curtin Immigration Reception and Processing Centre in Western Australia for the low security centre near Hobart on the island state of Tasmania.

Perhaps more worrying however, is that detainees who are labelled 'troublesome' are being flown to the high security centre on Christmas Island to be locked down in cells, sometimes even being separated from their families.

A spokeswoman for the Australian immigration department said "Some of the accommodation at Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre has been changed to provide a more secure and supportive environment for detainee clients whose behaviour has deteriorated to such a point where it threatens the safety of others and themselves."

The Australian government's contractor Serco has begun to implement community activities and volunteer work for detainees in an attempt to keep Curtin stable.

However, West Australian Premier Colin Barnett has warned that if a response to any sizeable incidents at Curtin was needed, the facility would struggle with the nearest Australian Federal Police riot team stationed in Perth: more than 2,000km away.

While Serco's efforts to involve the detainees in the community may go some way to combat this risk combined with the detainee at population being reduced to less than 1,000, it is hoped that the new reward scheme will prevent the intense heat and cramped conditions leading to the hunger strikes and protests which plagued Australia's largest detention centre last year.

Low risk detainees are now being rewarded with trips to the nearby town of derby where they have played cricket against locals, put on an exhibitions and taught sewing to the local Aborigine population.

However, for the detainees themselves, there has been significant outcry that the new scheme patronises detainees with Curtin detainee Amir Rafiee saying "we are not children in here, you know someone you just give candy and make us quiet and happy" and that "when you are locked up with no answers, your problems do not go away when you get taken on a bus ride or to the swimming pool".

The Australian Immigration Department's website says that good behaviour is a factor in determining whether detainees receive a bridging Australian visa which would allow detainees to live in the community while their claims are assessed.

However, Rafiee claims that anxiety is the only result for those left behind each time a detainee left the centre on a bridging visa. 


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