27 February 2012

Australian immigration authorities' latest problem as typhoid is discovered on Christmas Island

Several instances of typhoid infection in detainees at the Christmas Island Detention Centre has caused the latest problems for Australian immigration authorities as transfers from the remote detention centre have been halted to limit the risk of an outbreak.

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Transfer flights from Christmas Island have been suspended.

Australian immigration authorities have confirmed that two Indonesian crew members from separate asylum seeker boats have been infected with the highly contagious disease and, as a result, have stopped all transfers of detainees from Christmas Island to mainland detention.

"Two recent [irregular maritime arrivals] on Christmas Island have been diagnosed with typhoid fever," said an Australian Immigration Department spokesperson in a statement. "Both have been isolated and they are receiving specialist medical treatment.

"We are working with the public health authorities to minimise any possible risk of the disease's transmission and that included identifying clients and staff that might have had contact with the affected individuals."

While several cases of tuberculosis have been recorded on Christmas Island, a single case of typhoid has not been recorded since 2001. The highly contagious disease, which spreads through contaminated water or accidental ingestion of the faeces of an infected person, can cause severe complications if left untreated.

The revelation has meant that all transfers have been suspended as well as community visits and detained children have been pulled out of school.

The federal government has been quick to assure local residents that the risk of contamination is negligible and reassured the community in an official statement:

"The Indian Ocean Territories Health Services advises that the risk of typhoid being passed on to the Christmas Island community is extremely low."

Typhoid, which can cause gastroenteritis, rashes and confusion, typically lasts for about a month if left untreated, with stages of the infection categorised into four weeks. The disease is rare in Australia and infections are usually contracted abroad.

The inability to transfers detainees from Christmas Island could create further problems for Australian immigration authorities, who have been plagued with problems in recent months. Just last week, an investigation by international humanitarian organisation Amnesty International recommended that several detention centres in Australia should be closed immediately.

The effective quarantining of detainees has led some to speculate that the detention centre could quickly reach the levels of detainees which triggered riots in March 2011; almost 1,500 people were detained at the centre last week and, with transfers suspended, this number looks set to rise.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge their Australia visa applications with the Australian Embassy London.

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