Gov't opens new remote detention in WA

'Scale-proof' fencing at the new Northam detention centre. Photo: Department of Immigration and Citizenship

The newly opened Yongah Hill detention centre in remote Western Australia is “probably one of the most secure facilities in the entire network,” immigration media manager Sandi Logan said on June 25.

The new detention centre is about 90 kilometres north-east of Perth, about five kilometres outside the rural town of Northam. The $125 million centre was a disused army barracks and will house up to 600 male asylum seekers.

It is now fitted with electric fences, “scale-proof” walls, cameras and bars on most windows, said an AAP reporter who visited the site.

“Sleeping quarters are spare, with two men sharing a 2.5m x 2.5m room with bunk beds and a toilet, but there is also a well-appointed kitchen, library, internet room, vegetable garden and medical facilities.

“There are prisons less intimidating.”

Like all refugee detention centres, Yongah Hill will be run by private prison firm Serco. A reporter from the Avon Valley Gazette said the centre had 440 closed-circuit television cameras.

The first 84 asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, were transferred from the Northern Territory Wickham Point detention centre on June 27.

Others will be transferred from various detention centres around the country “in coming weeks”, the immigration department said.

It will include refugees transferred from Christmas Island, which has again had its detention facilities stretched to the limit as more boats carrying hundreds of asylum seekers have arrived in recent weeks.

Violence against and persecution of displaced people has been rising globally. The Australian said on June 30 that 20 boats carrying more than 1000 asylum seekers arrived in a three-week period, including the 240 survivors of the two boat disasters.

Refugee activists will be making the effort to visit the Northam detention centre in coming months. Remote detention centres have long been favoured by federal governments to try to discourage criticism of refugee detention and downplay any solidarity and support.

ABC Online said the local Northam community was “divided” over the presence of the centre. Residents said they feared breakouts, despite the fact that when refugees have escaped detention in the past, they have remained peaceful and only asked for help and understanding.

The Perth-based Refugee Rights Action Network has planned a convergence in Northam on August 26. RRAN said on its website that people should join the event “to take a stand for refugees rights and see first hand the institutions in which we incarcerate thousands of people each year.”

[For more information on the Northam Convergence visit]