Posts Tagged ‘Weihnachtsinsel’

Weihnachtsinsel: Privatisierte Abschiebung

Donnerstag, November 24th, 2011

“Nightmare on Christmas Island: Serco’s Australian Detention Center

by Patrick O’Keeffe, Special to CorpWatch

October 25th, 2011


Isolation cage, Christmas Island Detention Centre. Photo: Pamela Curr

Some 1,600 miles from the West Coast of Australia; Christmas Island sits alone, surrounded by the Indian Ocean. The cliff-bound territory, with some 1,400 residents on just over 50 square miles, hosts a detention center where thousands of immigrants who tried to enter Australia illegally are indefinitely detained. The policy of intercepting and holding without charge asylum seekers –including more than 1,000 children–has sparked political debate in Australia. But Serco, the UK company contracted to manage the center, has largely escaped scrutiny.

“{Serco’s} failure to perform is huge," says Kaye Bernard, an organizer with the Christmas Island Workers Union. Bernard meets regularly with workers from the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre (IDC). This year, several centers have teetered on the brink of chaos on numerous occasions, with riots at the Christmas Island and the Villawood IDC located in New South Wales. Unable to deal with the situation, Serco has called in the Australian Federal Police force, which has fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesting detainees. Various human and refugee rights groups have accused Serco guards of brutality including beating prisoners.

The nine major IDCs within the Australian Immigration Detention Network include the Christmas Island facility, as well as at the Curtin, Scherger, Villawood, Marybirnong IDCs, scattered around mainland Australia. Immigration detention costs have risen to more than $1 billion in the past two years, according to Liberal Party shadow immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), estimated that there were 6,872 detainees in immigration detention on April 15, 2011, with 1,102 in detention for more than 12 months. As of August 16, the centers held 5,622 detainees.

Most of the people seeking asylum in Australia are from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq or Sri Lanka. As of April 15, some 2,258 Afghan, including Hazara who fled persecution by the Taliban, comprised the largest detainee population.

The average time in detention fluctuates between 280 days and 300 days, and “the longer people stay in detention, the worse their mental health,” says head of Suicide Prevention Australia, Dr Michael Dudley. His assessment is confirmed in a report commissioned by the Australian government, in which the Detention Health Advisory Group (DeHAG) established a direct correlation between time in immigration detention and mental health problems: “{H}igh rates of major depression, anxiety and trauma,” it noted, are exacerbated by time spent in detention.

“There’s one man who’s dug himself a six-foot grave in B2 compound and he’s been sleeping there day and night,” says Bernard.

SERCO

A FTSE 1000 international service company, Serco has grown largely through the outsourcing of public services, particularly from successive UK governments. Now worth an estimated $4 billion, Serco is involved in hospitals, traffic management, prisons, immigration detention, military logistics, military health support, prisoner transport and custodial security, education, health and justice, amongst other activities.

The Serco Group has operations throughout Europe, Asia, North America and Africa. More than 90 percent its revenue is derived from government contracts or franchises awarded by governments.

According to a Serco spokesperson: “Serco’s experiences go beyond immigration detention centres and prisons, and it is this wider knowledge of public sector management that is utilised to maintain a high level of service to customers and clients.”

The company has numerous operations in Australia, having recently won contracts to manage Fiona Stanley Hospital and the Acacia Prison, as well as deals to provide court security and custodial services in Western Australia, provide logistical support to the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan, and manage the Borallon Correctional Facility in Queensland. The extent of Serco’s involvement in Australia’s military is underscored by the fact that Serco maintains a presence in every military base in Australia.

Privatizing Detention

Privatizing immigration detention, by removing “direct ministerial control over the daily operation of detention centers, not only allows governments to distance themselves from practices that might be condemned as abusive, but also has a deadening effect on public discussion,” Dr. Michael Grewcock of the University of New South Wales told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The privatisation of Australia’s immigration detention had a troubled history even before Serco’s arrival. Australasian Correctional Management and G4S were awarded contracts, in 1997 and 2003 respectively, to manage the country’s immigration detention centers, and both private companies attracted strong criticism.

Then, in 2009, the federal government awarded Serco a $367 million contract (since increased to $756 million) to manage Australia’s Immigration detention centers.

For Serco, the detention center deal “demonstrates our ability to successfully leverage our world-leading home affairs capabilities to further broaden our presence in Australia,” said Serco CEO Christopher Hyman in a media release announcing the 2009 contract win.

The conduct of the British company was controversial from the start. Serco has been fined for breaches of contract for every month that it has managed IDCs in Australia, according to Bernard. In March, The Australian reported that Serco had been fined a total of $4 million in early 2011. “We cannot detail breaches, fines imposed or other issues related to Serco’s contract as they are considered commercial-in-confidence,” a spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship told CorpWatch.

Indeed, the contract itself is confidential and Serco would not provide details even to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network, which has been established by Federal Parliament to investigate the management of Australia’s immigration detention network.

Australian Politics

As elsewhere in the world, Australian politicians have won votes by appealing to nativist and racist sentiments. As recently as 1966, Australian immigration was governed by the highly controversial “White Australia Policy,” the first piece of legislation passed by the Australian Federal Parliament, which restricted non-Caucasian immigration to Australia. Although this policy was abandoned, anti-immigrant sentiment continued. In 1992 the federal government under Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating introduced mandatory detention for all asylum seekers arriving in Australia without prior authorization.

Temporary facilities on Christmas Island were first established in late 2001, but the issue exploded during the 2001 Federal election. Labor opposition leader Kim Beazley was favored to defeat incumbent Prime Minister John Howard of the Liberal Party until a sinking fishing boat heaving at the seams with 438 asylum seekers (predominantly from Afghanistan) was rescued by the MS Tampa, a Norwegian tanker. The Australian government’s refusal to allow the ship’s captain to bring the asylum seekers to Christmas Island sparked a major maritime crisis.

Since then, both major parties have “been able to demonize asylum seekers by appealing to baseless fears,” says Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young who was part of a group that visited the facilities in September.

Trailing significantly in the polls, Howard appealed to anti-immigrant sentiments: "We will decide who comes into this country, and the circumstances in which they come," he said. This hard-line assertion, which was often greeted with rapturous applause, became his catch phrase and was widely credited for helping swing the election in his favor. In the 2010 election campaign, Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott also campaigned on the simplistic promise that he would “stop the boats.”

This year, with the issue of immigration spiralling out of control, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard reached an agreement with Malaysia to accept 800 asylum seekers intercepted in Australia waters. After the Australian High Court scuppered the plan, the Gillard government proposed a bill to revise immigration laws and legitimate the agreement. Then in a humiliating about face, Gillard announced on October 13 that she was killing the refugees swap plan and would process asylum seekers on Australian soil.

So for now, immigrants and refugees continue to be diverted Christmas Island, which became an Australian territory in 1957 after Canberra paid Singapore £2.9 million in compensation for lost revenues from phosphate mining.

Mental Health Problems, Poorly Trained Staff

The remote centers run by Serco are chronically overcrowded and understaffed, and access to mental and physical health care is limited, Christmas Island Workers Union’s Bernard charges. Although Serco maintains some medical staffing, many problems require more specialized attention. Even at the Curtin detention center in mainland Western Australia, an ambulance trip to the nearest hospital takes 45 minutes, and except for a few days a month, there are no psychiatrists on site, with most assessments performed by phone.

Many detainees have experienced serious physical and mental health problems. From January to June of this year, 1,507 detainees were hospitalized, while on Christmas Island alone, there were 620 self-harm incidents, including suicide attempts. Since October 2010, five people have committed suicide in immigration detention centers in Australia, while “there have been many near misses,” says Dudley, chair of Suicide Prevention Australia.

And the problem appears to be worsening. "In the first week of June when I visited Christmas Island, more than 30 incidents of self harm by detainees held there were reported," Australian Ombudsman, Allan Asher, who is currently investigating this matter, told ABC radio program AM.

Serco acknowledges the escalating problem, but blames the detainees for "creating a culture of self harm," and using it as "bargaining tool," according a May 31 memo issued by Serco management to staff, and leaked to The Australian.

Dudley disagrees, charging that Serco staffers "have no particular mental health skills to address the needs of detainees, and {they} operate from a prison model." Serco exacerbates the problem when, "self harming asylum seekers -possibly victims of torture and trauma -are put in solitary confinement,” said Dudley.

Dudley also worries about the impact on workers. “I greatly doubt that there is any meaningful level of support to individual staff in often morally ambiguous situations, and suspect that morale for many staff, who are often very young, would be low.”

After a recent wave of attempted suicides, staffers “were just in tears,” laments Bernard. One young guard attended six code-blue self-harm incidents in a four hour period. Another, Kieran Webb, worked at the remote Curtin IDC for 6 months, where one of his charges, a 19-years-old Afghan man, Mohammad Atay, committed suicide on March 28. A few months later, while on holiday with his family, Webb, also 19, killed himself.

“These young 20-somethings with no training, no experience, are just thrown out there with no support,” says Bernard. “One minute they are driving a forklift in a warehouse, the next they are in charge of a compound of 100 to 200 men.”

On October 10, The Australian reported that Serco is also using subcontractors to recruit staff. “An English backpacker on a tourist visa, Australians straight from high school, and overseas students are among hundreds of casual workers earning up to $450 a day as "officers" in immigration detention centres.

"{They} hold licences to act as security officers including a level II in Security Operations. Regular checks are undertaken to verify this is the case," a Serco spokesman told The Australian.

Certificate II in Security Operations takes five to 10 days to complete, industry wide. But, according to a Serco spokesman, staffers attend four weeks of training before assuming their positions. In May, the ABC program Lateline, interviewed an anonymous Christmas Island IDC guard, who described the amount of training as, “to put it bluntly, stuff all.” He said that staffing rosters contained names of non-existent guards. “They’re not on the island, but they are on the roster.”

A month earlier a Villawood IDC guard had told ABC that “Serco got rid of the training course, using staffing levels as an excuse and basically threw the staff on the floor.” A Serco spokesman denies this charge, noting that the company has invested “more than $1.5 million in training Serco Immigration Services employees,” providing “programs that meet, and in some cases exceed, the obligations outlined in its contract with DIAC.”

“It is unacceptable,” says Hanson-Young, “that Serco staff lack proper qualifications for dealing with people who have been traumatised, let alone vulnerable children.”

Understaffing is also a perennial problem, says Hanson-Young. The company “does not maintain any staff to detainee ratios because it’s not in the company’s contract with Serco,” she said citing the joint committee report.

The Christmas Island center was “typically 15 staff members short per day,” former manager of the IDC Ray Wiley wrote to senior Serco management in October 2010. Such chronic understaffing “debilitates the worker to the extent that many have developed post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Bernard.

According to Bernard, Serco staffers at Christmas Island told her “how scared they were, and how they had not had any training.” In fact, Serco has subcontracted part of the staffing to MSS Security, said Steven Karras, acting DIAC regional manager at the Christmas Island IDC, and he is “not aware of any mental health awareness training” for MSS staff.

Serco refutes the claim that their staff do not undergo mental health training. “Mental health awareness and suicide awareness training” is part of the initial four week training program says a company spokesperson, who asked not to be named.

Claims of understaffing were also “incorrect and show little understanding of the staffing required at each site,” said the spokesperson. Company staffing models consider a “wide range of factors, making it a far more complex determination that simply a staff to client ratio.”

Citing the isolation of centers such as Christmas Island and the often short-term notice for replacements, staff numbers were not always ideal, he said, and there are “increased risks at some sites.”

Overcrowding and Overwork

Limited qualifications and lack of training contribute not only to staff burn-out and trauma, but to detainee unrest. In March 2011, riots at Christmas Island pushed staff to the breaking point. “When all the riots were happening, staff worked 21 days straight, working up to 18 hours per day,” says Bernard. “There was one staff member who was literally falling over from exhaustion, and we told them to go home. One of the senior managers from Serco turned up at their home and told them to get back to work.” Such treatment “poses a threat to life for both the worker and detainees,” says Bernard.

Detainee overcrowding magnifies the problems. In the first half of 2011, Christmas Island was over capacity on 28 occasions, according to documents released by DIAC to the inquiry of the joint select committee. In 2010, 144 detainees were being kept in classrooms, 92 in storerooms, 30 in a visiting area, and 240 in tents where they were supervised by a sole officer, according to former IDC manger Wiley.

Crowding was so serious that the visitor center at Christmas Island was converted to accommodate detainees on suicide watch, Karras told a hearing of the joint select committee which met on September 6 on Christmas Island. But the day before the committee arrived, Serco tried to mask the actual usage of this space by relocating the at-risk detainees and removing their beds from the visitor center, according to Bernard.

At the same hearing, Bernard told the committee that when staffers complain, incident reports to Serco can end up in Bin 13, aka the paper shredder. A Serco spokesperson counters that “all major incidents are reported directly to DIAC.”

But Comcare, the government agency responsible for workplace safety confirms “under-reporting of notifiable incidents.” And since Serco reports on itself, says Bernard, “there is an incentive not to report incidents that may incur a fine, while there is an incentive for the government to hide the truth,” since unrest in detention centers provides the opposition with political fodder. Furthermore, the confidentiality agreements that all staff members are expected to sign, “are used as part of a fear and intimidation management practice to stop workers from reporting serious incidents and speaking out on OHS issues,” says Bernard.

With the failure of the Gillard government’s plans for transferring detainees to Malaysia, the focus will return to onshore processing of asylum seekers. But it is unlikely that Australia will move away from the growing trend of privatization.

Serco CEO Christopher Hyman describes the change from government’s traditional role as one of provider of services to a ‘procurer of services.” These “new ways to fundamentally transform the efficiency and productivity of essential services,” he says, “will result in a broadening of opportunities in existing markets, and the continued development of new markets, both in the UK and overseas.” Kaye Bernard puts it differently: “Serco is making a killing.”

 

(Quelle: CorpWatch.)

Australien: Flüchtlingsrevolte

Donnerstag, April 28th, 2011

“Guards retreat as detainees set Villawood alight

By Debbie Guest and Lanai Vasek

SYDNEY’S Villawood Detention Centre last night erupted into violence with rioting detainees setting fire to the facility and forcing guards to retreat.

More than 30 firefighters were battling to control blazes in up to three of the centre’s buildings after detainees gathered furniture which they lit and then hurled.

The rioting followed a day-long protest by up to 11 detainees, some of whom refused to come down from the roof from where they threw tiles.

Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said guards ‘withdrew’ from the compound that was on fire. “At least three buildings in stage three are on fire and one major fire has been set in the grounds of the stage three compound,” he said.

Another refugee advocate, Jamal Daoud, told The Australian that detainees inside one of the centre’s compounds had attacked guards by throwing objects at them before lighting the fire.

“The detainees are rioting inside the Villawood detention centre, the detainees attacked SERCO security with fire extinguishers and threw objects on them,” he said.

“The guards then ran away.”

A spokesman for the NSW Fire Brigade said it was not safe for the officers to enter the centre, forcing them to attempt to extinguish the flames from a cherry picker.

Mr Daoud, who was outside the centre last night, said the flames were very high.

He said detainees in the centre had told him that the fire began in the computer room of a compound known as stage three, which houses between 150 and 200 asylum-seekers.

Mr Daoud said the detainees who started the fire were frustrated by the lack of care the Department of Immigration and Citizenship showed to two men who were protesting on the roof of the centre for much of yesterday. In the evening, the rooftop protest swelled to up to 15 detainees and Mr Daoud said that by around 11.30pm the situation had escalated dramatically.

“There is total chaos inside the detention, with detainees from the rooftop throwing roof tiles on the ground,” he said.

Mr Daoud said around midnight the rioting detainees destroyed a fence between two separate compounds of the centre and started another fire. He said this fire, in an area known as stage two, had destroyed Villawood’s canteen and kitchen. “They (the detainees) told me the kitchen exploded because of the gas,” he said. “They are angry detainees… it is a riot.”

Mr Daoud, who is also spokesman for the Social Justice Network, said he had warned the department before the fires broke out that the rooftop protest had to be quelled, otherwise the situation would escalate.

“I warned them about this from yesterday morning. The department needed to send someone to negotiate, they ignored them and the people on the rooftop said they would not go down.”

Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said three areas of the compound on fire had been destroyed, including a billiards room and computer room. He said power had been cut off to the compound on fire and many detainees were upset and worried. “People in the compound are very distressed because they can’t get out,” he said.

Australia’s detention centres have recently been plagued by violent riots, suicides and self-harm attempts.

Last month, a violent riot erupted at Christmas Island’s high security detention centre following a mass breakout. In the past eight months, six people have died in detention.

Conditions at Villawood have been the focus of a wide-ranging investigation into Australian detention centres by the government’s workplace safety regulator, Comcare. Last week, the commonwealth watchdog issued the Immigration Department with a lengthy improvement notice about dangers for workers at Villawood as part of a crackdown on the seven immigration detention centres.

A senior Comcare investigator found that alleged ringleaders of the Christmas Island riot transferred to Villawood’s high-security area were placed under the control of a worker who had not been trained for the job.

Last night’s rioting came as the family of a Fijian man who leapt to his death from a rooftop at the detention centre in September pleaded with the state coroner to hold immigration authorities, Serco and the commonwealth to account for ‘systemic failures’ within the detention network.

Josefa Rauluni, 36, threw himself off the roof of stage two of the Villawood centre after being denied a permanent visa and was scheduled to be sent back to his native Fiji. The father of another, active in the Fijian movement for democracy, had told the Immigration Department of his son’s intention to commit suicide, saying in a letter delivered just days before his death that if his deportation was to go ahead they should “send my dead body”. His death is the subject of a coronial inquiry to begin in June. However, his family wants more than just the circumstances of his death scrutinised.”

 

(Quelle: The Australian.)

Siehe auch:

Villawood detainees held in solitary confinement at Silverwater prison – lawyers shocked at conditions

Villawood Burning

Refugee Protest Spreads to Curtin, Refugee Supporter Banned from Visits

Lies preventing visits at Curtin Detention Centre as hunger strike begins by 300 detainees: Refugees being driven to suicide and mental illness

Australian government announces new laws to punish refugees

Australien: Schilly lässt grüßen

Samstag, Juli 24th, 2010

TIMOR-LESTE: Activists say no to proposed new refugee centre




Photo: Jesse Wright/IRIN
Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has requested more details of the plan

BANGKOK, 23 July 2010 (IRIN) – Timor-Leste activists have rejected a controversial Australian plan to set up a refugee processing centre in Timor-Leste. The plan was also voted down by the Timorese parliament on 12 July.

“The proposal is yet one more example of how [current and previous] Australian governments continue to abuse the people of Timor-Leste,” Dinorah Granadeiro, executive director of the Timor-Leste NGO Forum, said in a statement by seven Timorese NGOs and civil society groups. “We must be strong and resist such a patronizing suggestion.”

As Australia’s Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre suffers overcrowding, Prime Minister Julia Gillard on 6 July proposed a centre in Timor-Leste – Asia’s newest and one of its poorest nations – to ease the burden.

Like previous offshore centres, the plan would keep refugees at a distance while processing their asylum requests. Gillard was particularly concerned about cutting down on human traffickers who ship refugees to the Australian mainland in rickety boats.

Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has requested that Gillard provide a more detailed plan for the refugee centre, but parliament and civil society groups have said no to Canberra.

“This is not the right time for Timor-Leste to accept the proposition,” said Joao Pequinho, head of Forum Taumatan and signatory of the NGO statement.

The Timorese have suggested that its own people – recovering from brutal Indonesian military rule that ended in 1999 – still face unemployment, hunger and homelessness, and will be clamouring to get into the proposed refugee centre themselves.

“People here will want to apply to be in the centre because the living conditions will be better than their own,” said Charles Scheiner, a researcher at La’o Hamutuk, a civil society organization in Dili. “I haven’t met anyone who thinks it’s a good idea.”

Granadeiro, of Timor-Leste NGO Forum, accused Australia of insulting the Timorese by consulting Indonesia, which invaded the island in 1975 and left more than 200,000 dead during decades of iron-fisted rule.

“Such arrogance towards Timor-Leste can be seen in how it [Australia] seemed more interested in seeking the approval of the Indonesian government before it sought the approval of the Timorese people,” Granadeiro said. “It seems Australia’s attitude towards Timor-Leste has not changed since 1975.”

“Out of sight, out of mind”

The proposal, although not yet fleshed out, has been compared to Australia’s previous “Pacific Solution” that began in 2001, and used three Pacific islands for processing centres for refugees en route to Australia. The centres were closed in 2008 by Kevin Rudd, Gillard’s predecessor who left office on 24 June.

But Gillard’s proposition is part of a bigger problem in Australia, said Jane McAdam, an international refugee law professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

“There’s a huge amount of hostility in the community toward refugees and asylum-seekers because of misinformation,” McAdam said, noting that of the 13,750 refugees the country accepts every year, a couple of thousand come by boat. “Australia has the capacity to deal with it, but it’s more a matter of out of sight, out of mind.”

Experts say a regional processing centre could work, if it cuts down on people smuggling and is genuinely committed to resettling legitimate asylum-seekers. Some believe Timor-Leste has an obligation to help resolve the refugee problem in the region and uphold human rights, but can barely handle its own problems.

“It’s about commitment, moral obligation and humanitarian principles,” said Emanuel Bria, an activist with the Luta Hamutuk organization which works to empower citizens.

“On one hand Timor-Leste has an international responsibility, but on the other hand, Timor-Leste just cannot handle asylum-seekers.”

 

(Quelle: IRIN News.)

Australien: “Nein!” zu Kriegsflüchtlingen aus Afghanistan

Dienstag, Mai 18th, 2010

“Sagging in polls, Australia’s government toughens stance on asylum seekers

Australia’s Labor government, which recently fell behind in the polls for the first time since taking power, has imposed a freeze on asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

By Kathy Marks, Correspondent

Christmas Island, Australia —
In 2001 Christmas Island became synonymous with Australia’s hard-line refugee policy after former conservative Prime Minister John Howard turned away a Norwegian tanker, the Tampa, carrying shipwrecked asylum seekers.

Nine years later, the island – an Australian external territory 1,600 miles northwest of Perth – is again in the spotlight, as asylum policy once again becomes a political football.

In Australia, which intermittently receives boatloads of refugees fleeing war and poverty in neighboring countries, the issue is always a sensitive one, but never more so than in an election year.

The Labor government, accused of being ‘soft’ on border protection following a flurry of asylum-seeker boat arrivals on the island, has announced a freeze of up to six months on the processing of new refugee claims by Afghans and Sri Lankans.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans cited improved security conditions in the two countries when announcing the move last month. However, critics noted that the move followed the interception of dozens of boats in Australian waters this year, and revelations that an immigration detention center on Christmas Island is overflowing.

‘Tough but compassionate’

After Kevin Rudd became prime minister in 2007, he abolished some of Mr. Howard’s more controversial measures, such as sending asylum seekers to the Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea for processing, and granting refugees five-year rather than permanent visas.

However, as part of an immigration policy that Mr. Rudd has called ‘tough but compassionate,’ his government continued the practice of preventing ‘boat people’ from setting foot on the mainland. Christmas Island, where a detention center was built after the Tampa incident, became the centerpiece of that policy, with all ‘illegal’ arrivals taken to the remote, tropical territory for processing.

Designed to accommodate at most 800 people, the center currently holds about 2,000, with the excess housed in prefabricated huts and air-conditioned tents. The government has been forced to fly some detainees to the mainland, where it recently reopened a Howard-era facility in Western Australia.

That action has provoked more criticism from human rights groups and refugee advocates, who claim that the isolated Curtin center – the site of riots and suicide attempts in the past – is unsuitable for its purpose. Zachary Steel, a clinical psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales, described it recently as ‘a psychiatric catastrophe.’

Dr. Steel, who carried out a mental health study at the center, uncovered a tenfold increase in psychiatric disorders among children.

Chris Sidoti, a human rights lawyer who visited Curtin before it was mothballed in 2002, told The Age newspaper this month: ‘People had nothing to do. It was a lethal recipe for depression and unrest.’

But with Labor behind in the polls for the first time since coming to power, according to two consecutive surveys this month in The Australian newspaper, the government is under pressure to prove its credentials on border protection. With an eye to the election, it has already ditched unpopular policies such as a proposed Emissions Trading Scheme and announced a new tax on the ‘super profits’ of mining companies.

Although Australians have in the past expressed strong antipathy toward asylum seekers arriving by boat, the government’s poll ratings did not improve after the announcement of the freeze on Afghans and Sri Lankans – indicating, perhaps, that the issue is nowadays less of a concern.

Defined by detention

On Christmas Island itself, residents are divided on the matter but also weary of it.

The Island used to be known as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, thanks to its profusion of endemic species, including native red crabs which stage a spectacular annual migration from the rainforest to the ocean.

Many of the 1,200 locals – most of them descendants of indentured workers brought over from China and Southeast Asia in the 19th century to work in the phosphate mines – say they are fed up with their home being used as a political football. They also worry that the island’s prison island image will set back their attempts to establish an ecotourism industry.

‘This is an incarnation of Christmas Island I don’t really approve of,’ says Simon Prince, who runs a dive operation. ‘My opinion is that these are people needing our help. I’ve been involved in rescues [at sea] in the past, and generally they’ve got a tragic story to tell.’

‘I would like the place to be known for what it’s best for – as a pristine wilderness, both above and below the water, and as one of the last frontiers of nature,’ he adds.

With hundreds of Immigration Department staff on the island, residents also complain that they can no longer afford rents, which have been driven up because of an accommodation squeeze.

Gordon Haye, Christmas’s one taxi driver, says: ‘My brother and his son are living in a little shed because they can’t afford a house. I know of a family with two kids living in a laundry [room] the back of someone’s house.’

However, with the phosphate industry waning, and tourism yet to take off, the island – closer to Indonesia than Australia – has become dependent on jobs and income generated by the detention center. ‘We have a detention economy on the island,’ says Gordon Thomson, president of the shire council.”

(Quelle: Christian Science Monitor.)