Christmas Island prison awaits refugees fleeing wars

Issue 

Imprisonment is still mandatory for refugees arriving by boat — despite the ALP government's promise to mitigate the harsh anti-refugee policies of its predecessor. In the latest incident, the navy intercepted a boat carrying 52 refugees and three crew on August 29 and took them to the Christmas Island prison camp.

The only substantive change in policy between the Howard and Rudd governments was the replacement of temporary visas with permanent residency for those granted refugee status.

Detention camps in remote parts of Australia have been closed. Yet the "Pacific solution" (the policy of paying Pacific Island nations to host refugee prisons) has been transformed into an "Indian Ocean solution" with the Christmas Island prison expanded to compensate.

Not long after the latest boat arrived, 10 young Afghan refugees were released from the detention centre on Christmas Island, where they had been since May, to be processed on mainland Australia.

However, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd denied it meant any change to the anti-refugee policy of mandatory processing offshore.

The nationality of these latest refugees was unknown. But, on August 13, 77 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka were taken to Christmas Island after their boat was intercepted by the navy.

More than 30,000 Tamil civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan army during the first half of 2009. More than 300,000 Tamils have been held in concentration camps since fighting ended in May. Extreme human rights abuses have been reported in these concentration camps.

Australia has consistently given diplomatic support to Sri Lanka, ignoring government atrocities and characterising Tamil resistance as "terrorism".

The other main countries of origin for refugees arriving in Australia by boat are Afghanistan and Iraq. In both countries the presence of Australian troops and "private security contractors" — mercenaries — is contributing to the violence refugees are fleeing.