Permanent protection visas will be granted to 119 refugees arriving on the Australian mainland from Christmas Island tonight.  A further 15 people, including 14 children who are already on the mainland, have also been granted protection visas.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship confirmed that the refugees would be arriving tonight to be settled across all states except Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

“As refugees, they are now permanent residents of Australia and will receive settlement support to establish their lives in Australia.

“This is transfer is pretty well routine. This will be the biggest group in a few weeks,” he said.

Of those granted visas, 67 are from Afghanistan, 19 from Iran, 15 from Sri Lanka, eight from Iraq, two from Pakistan and 19 are from other countries including Burma and Kuwait.

The transfer comes following outspoken criticism of Australia’s detention of asylum seekers by recently announced Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry.

Speaking at the Australia Day awards ceremony yesterday, Prof McGorry said the policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers is “… an absolute disaster that we must not repeat.”

A recent report in The Australian claimed that “Christmas Island’s detention facilities are being expanded beyond capacity and are now ‘home’ to more than 1300 people”:

Too many are children, most of whom are held in the gated and guarded construction camp. Curtin University researcher Lucy Fiske, who met children aged from seven months through to 17 years on the island, says: “There is no natural shade, no grassed area, no open space where children can run or play, and no outdoor space for communal gatherings. There is very little to do.”

To date, 99 permanent protection visas have been granted this year following on from 1131 granted in 2009.

Peter Fray

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