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Federal

Sep 13, 2010

Next stop, the Darwin Airport Motel: home to 150 asylum seeker teens

There are around 150 boys aged 14 to 17 currently locked up in the Darwin Airport Motel who have not left the building since April. Pamela Curr went to visit them.

In the third and final installment of her series on asylum seeker accommodation in the Northern Territory, Pamela Curr takes a tour of the Darwin Airport Motel to visit the (approximately) 15o asylum seeker teenagers who reside there:

There are around 150 boys aged 14 to 17 currently locked up in the Darwin Airport Motel who have not left the building since April.

These boys are almost all Hazaras, a persecuted minority who are being killed and driven out of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

Many of these boys have seen their fathers and brothers killed. They have been forced to watch beheadings in their villages by the Taliban who know the value of terror as an agent of control. They have been hidden in the boots of cars and in trucks under animals and vegetables to get them to safety. They have left at the behest of mothers who tell them that having lost husbands and other sons that they must survive.

Many have been imprisoned in Indonesia where they suffered regular beatings and were locked in cells without food and water for days. They have many reasons why their nights are troubled and their days need to be filled with meaningful activity.

This is the front view of the Darwin Airport Lodge:

darwin1

This is the back view:

darwin2

These double stacked demountable units are connected by stairwells and metal walkways. Staff say that “the boys pace these walkways like caged animals”.

darwin3

Locals report that a developer erected these units in weeks. The land is completely covered in buildings — there is no recreational space. More units are being placed on the last remaining open space.

There is one small swimming pool around 2×3 metres in size. The pool was not available for use until three months after the boys arrived. They were not allowed in until a lifeguard was employed from outside even with staff present. The lifeguard arrives infrequently. Any activity is screened to be risk averse. Worried staff say that they do not know what will happen in the rainy season as there is nowhere for the boys to go except to pace the walkways.

There are families and small children in demountables at the back of the site with one small playground. A small verandah area carries two pool tables for use by the teenagers. There are four computers for all. This is the lifeline to home. A bombing in Quetta is a cause of great fear as calls are made to check on the safety of family for those lucky enough to know where their family are.

The boys are allowed 20 minutes every second day. They must book to get online and the queue begins 4.30 am. Families are allowed to book 20 minutes for each person so families get double time. This is resented by the boys. Once again, as for all Christmas Island arrivals even when on shore in Australia — no mobiles allowed. Phone cards are issued weekly to access the few landlines available. Twice recently the boys were given cards which did not work. This was reported in other Alternative Places of Detention (APODS) also.

The boys who have now been in the motel for five and a half months say “every day the same — nothing to do.” Some boys have cut themselves as a way of “releasing the pain.” In the past three weeks a husband and wife teaching team have arrived. They take English sessions three times per day. Each class is an hour and a half for groups of 50. The boys say that it is boring because there is no difference for those who have no English and those who have good English but want to improve.

These boys say they know that these classes are for just for show. They allow immigration to say that they are offering “education and life skills programs commensurate with the age within the detention environment.”

There is a large sporting complex situated 1.6 kilometres around the corner from the Darwin Airport Lodge. No one has taken these boys there to exercise and play sport. I was there on a Saturday afternoon and only one football stadium was in use.

The boys under the guardianship of the Minister must wait until the Afghan Visa Suspension is lifted in October before their claims can be processed. What they and we do not know is what will happen when over 1000 suspensions are lifted and how long will it take for the immigration department to process their claims.

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35 comments

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35 thoughts on “Next stop, the Darwin Airport Motel: home to 150 asylum seeker teens

  1. shepherdmarilyn

    Of course it would have been nice if at some time someone in our worthless media had bothered to point out that the UNHCR and Human rights watch, Amnesty and others have all pointed out that the suspension had zero legal basis but it seems that our media are largely as racist and ignorant as our pollies and they simply don’t care to tell the fucking truth.

  2. Norman Hanscombe

    Many NSW teacher rainees in the early 50s (and later) would have been excited had they been given this standard of accommodation, but we were only Australian citizens, so a few may sometimes have complained quietly, but we accepted our treatment.

  3. Norman Hanscombe

    P.S. Our roofs did sometimes leak, but we were trainees, not rainees.

  4. New Cassandra

    Stick em in a gulag in Indonesia – after a while they will stop coming here.

  5. Stevo the Working Twistie

    Aye Norman, and we had to lick road clean wit’ tongue too. Knob. These are 14-17 year old CHILDREN we’re talking about here. I presume as a trainee teacher you were allowed contact with the outside world, reading material in your own language, day trips and the odd holiday back home. Australia locks up innocent children. Bottom line. Feel proud?

  6. rossco

    But Norman, were the teacher trainees locked up in their accommodation, denied recreation facilities, restricted in their use of telephones, unable to have contact with families etc. And of course the trainees had the option of leaving if they didn’t like what was on offer.

  7. zut alors

    I see ABC News has a report that some (approx 25) Afghani asylum seekers have attended school in Darwin today – no mention of the other 125 referred to in Pamela’s piece. Obviously the government are making a weak gesture of transporting some boys off to school in a bus as a PR exercise for the TV cameras.

    The new Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, has now been sworn in so we know who to hassle.

    Note to Norman Hanscombe: in case you blinked, it’s no longer the 1950s.

  8. zut alors

    Correction: just checked the ABC website – there were 34 children attending school for the first time. It’s unclear whether they are from the same group about whom Pamela is writing in this piece.

  9. Norman Hanscombe

    I do know it’s not the 1950, ZIT, and appreciate how much more affluent Australia is today, but I also know it’s not Xanadu. As for the other posters:

    Did I forget to mention the trainee teachers were Australians? That did strengthen our right to be here. We could have left and gone home — as long as we paid out the bond we’d accepted, of course, although for many (in those less affluent times) that wasn’t an easy option. Then again, the non-Australians for whom the Tooth fairy Brigade feel so deeply could also leave and go home — without having to pay a bond or even their fares home.

    I understand why bleeding heart mentalities can result in feeling it’s not nice to discourage anyone from believing he/she has a ‘right’ to come to Australia; but until you can convince Australians to back new legislation which actually stipulates what you erroneously assume our current laws do, you’ll remain sad.

    On the other hand, if you believe Australia’s current laws mean what you’ve been claiming (re alleged ‘breaches’) wouldn’t it be a good idea to obtain better lawyers? After all, surely it’s a case of EITHER (as you constantly claim) our laws being breached, OR your legal teams aren’t too hot? Members of the legal profession have never indulged in telling clients whatever clients would like to hear — have they?

    Still, it’s never pleasant giving up a comfortable (even subconscious) erroneous) belief, is it?

  10. Pamela

    The 34 children going to school today are aged between 12 and 15 years. They are coming from the Darwin Airport Lodge and the Asti Motel.
    The department says that the children aged 6 to 12 will have to wait until after the next school holidays before they can start school.
    No mention of the over 15 years who are desperate to go.
    The NT schools have been ready for these kids since May – 4 months back but DIAC for some reason would not sign the MOU.
    Aboriginal parents are punished for not sending their kids to school – somehow it is ok if the Minister does not send his kids to school- the Minister is Guardian for the teenagers without parents.
    Bishop Hurley has offered as far back as april to take all the kids into the Catholic Schools but his offer has been ignored.

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