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