Yesterday Crikey published a letter addressed to Immigration Minister Chris Evans and signed by a group of NGOs and refugee rights groups after their escorted visit to the completed $400 million Christmas Island detention facility.
Pamela Curr, campaign coordinator for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, was one of the group of “stakeholders” who toured the newly completed Christmas Island detention facility, equipped to accommodate up to 800 people, last Wednesday.
According to Curr, a group of around 40 to 50 people spent five hours flying to the island, four hours on the ground and then five hours flying back. They were given an unprecedented level of access to the new facility and were told that, as there are currently no detainees in the facility, they were permitted to freely take photos and take mobile phones inside.
A long time campaigner for refugee rights, Curr confirmed to Crikey that there seems to be a “new openness” under Senator Evans.
“I have to say I could never imagine it happening under the previous government,” Curr told Crikey.
But Curr and her fellow representatives share serious reservations about the new facility, as outlined in their letter over the weekend. They collectively continue to call for for all asylum seekers to have their applications dealt with under the procedures that apply on the mainland and maintain that “the very expensive security systems of the facility are quite unnecessary for the population who may be detained there.”
“The Palmer Inquiry was lodged in May 2005,” Curr told Crikey, “and yet the plans for the Christmas Island facility were signed off in June/July of that same year, and the Howard government kept building. There was no change to the centre incorporating the Palmer recommendations.”
During the tour Pamela took photos of the new facilities — with the tour leader’s full permission. The tour was led by various officials from the Department of Immigration and GSL contractors.
According to Curr, even without housing any detainees, the facility is set to cost $22 million a year to run.
“As you drive through the first set of heavy electric gates into the vehicle air lock, you know that you are in a high security prison with every permutation of steel grills bars and wire mesh,” Curr told Crikey. And if you do the maths, “each of the 400 beds cost the Australian taxpayers one million dollars.”
Curr took Crikey on a tour of the new detention facility, here are her impressions and photos, as told to Crikey:
The Christmas Island Camp is surrounded by high cliffs and jungle with one road out — it is a geographic prison by itself. The island is 2600kms from Perth and 360 kms from Jakarta — a bit far to swim.
The leitmotif is cage — all sixes and shapes. Everything is caged lights, gym, cameras everything.
Isolation cells are located in Red Compound. When I asked if these were for mentally ill people, I was told “No — it is for behaviour management”. To allow detainees fresh air the architects have designed “break-out” cages. These have steel grill sides and top on a concrete base. Here someone can enjoy their out of isolation time or in an alternative area with steel tables and seats bolted to the floor. Guantanamo had similar cages:
These pictures are from Gold Compound — the lowest security area. This is where we lunched:
Across the Grassed area are the rooms — double bunks and stainless steel bathrooms:
Here we are touring Education 1, which also encompasses the Intake area where buses/vans will deposit people from the boats. Here they can be assessed — tables and computers can be set up under the caged lights and interviews begin:
Families and children will not be processed here but back at the old detention centre and construction site which has accommodation in dongas and huts for 200/300. This is more like a run down caravan park or church camp, primitive but infinitely less alarming that the super deluxe, architect designed prison that is the new Camp, 22kms away from Settlement. Here are the entrance gates plus Control Room with a panel of screens to receive camera footage from every area in the centre. They can also send footage in real time to a Remote Control Room in Canberra:
Curr told Crikey that some of the Christmas Island locals have floated ideas for the as yet unused facility. Given that there are no boats on the horizon, and that a joint boat patrol initiative between Indonesia and Australia is proving to be very effective, the locals have proposed that the high tech and expensive facilities could be used as a university campus, a Asian/Australia conference centre or even the next location for the APEC conference…