24 August 2011

Plans to reopen controversial Australian immigration detention centre

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Australian newspaper The Australian has today claimed to have received confirmation that a small team of employees from Australian company Toll Remote Logistics have arrived on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea to start “preliminary scoping work” for a planned reopening of a controversial immigration detention centre.

Australian Immigration

There are reported plans to reopen a controversial immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea.

The controversial Australian immigration detention centre formed part of previous Prime Minister John Howard’s ‘Pacific Solution’, the name given to the then-government’s policy of transporting asylum seekers to detention camps on small Pacific islands rather than allowing them to land in Australia.

The policy cost Australia over AU$15.5 million, and was widely condemned as an abuse of the country’s international obligations. Among the critics were the Australian Labour Party, at that time in opposition, and the detention centre was closed under Kevin Rudd’s leadership following his election as Prime Minister in 2007.

The potential re-opening of the Manus Island detention centre follows the controversy over incumbent Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s proposed ‘Malaysian Solution’, whereby Australia would send 800 people who legally arrived at Australia’s shores by boat seeking asylum, to Malaysia, in return for accepting 4,000 “genuine refugees” from Malaysia over a number of years.

 Gillard’s Malaysian Solution is currently under consideration from the High Court in Australia, following a number of challenges from asylum seekers and the Human Rights Commission. They argue that the government does not have the power to declare Malaysia a suitable place to send asylum seekers because it was not a signatory to the international convention on refugees, and therefore Australia cannot guarantee asylum seekers would be protected there.

With the future of the Malaysian Solution in doubt, the centre at Papua New Guinea could take on increased significance. The Australian cites project insiders as saying construction could start in a matter of weeks. Some, notably refugee lawyer Marion Le, who previously demanded the facility be shut down in 2005, and human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, have recently said they would prefer for a Pacific Island detention centre to be opened rather than see asylum seekers sent to Malaysia, re-iterating concerns about the treatment of refugees.

Meanwhile, the Australian Green party have indicated they will be pushing for an inquiry into the detention centre, describing the government’s approach to asylum seekers as “a mess”.

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