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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:


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.


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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.

  11. Stevo the Working Twistie

    Norman – I repeat – THEY ARE CHILDREN! Does that mean nothing to you? That is not a “belief” it is a fact. If you and like-minded people honestly believe that it is right to incarcerate CHILDREN for the sake of your border security, then Australia be damned. Better to have a bleeding heart than no heart at all.

  12. Stevo the Working Twistie

    Oh, and to save Marilyn the trouble, they DO have the right to ask Australia for asylum. Australia gave them that right when it signed those pesky treaties. You want to remove that right? Then have those treaties rescinded, and show the world what this country is really made of.

  13. Maddy

    Yes you had to pay out a bond Norman, but if these children leave and are sent back to their home countries they will pay with their lives. What price do you put on your life? More than your bond I’m guessing.

  14. Norman Hanscombe

    1. Twistie, I do know what children are, and it IS sad they’re being used by their parents and others to garner sympathy, but until you can convince Australians we have no say about who enters our country, you’re simply beating a dead horse. Perhaps you have a point when you say, “Better to have a bleeding heart than no heart at all.” I’d add, not much use having a head unless you try to use what’s inside it. Who knows, you might even come to know you don’t know what the letter of our treaty obligations actually entail — or is that just my over-optimism breaking out again?
    By the way, Twistie, repeating yourself is, in your case, not dissimilar to hiccups. Repetition doesn’t actually improve what came first.

    2. Maddy, may I congratulate you, both on your appropriate choice of nom de blog, and your good sense in NOT attaching your name to your analyses?. Let’s hope (it’s the optimist in me again) that when I return from shopping, if anything’s been added, there’ll be a dash of careful analysis?

  15. zut alors

    Stevo, Maddy,

    Norman Hanscombe is just popping down to the shops for some milk…of human kindness.

  16. nicolino

    In Australia we look up to footballer hooligans as heroes and look down on asylums seekers as something less than human.

  17. Broggly

    Norm, if any of you trainees had left and gone home that would be that. There weren’t any killers, torturers, pillagers, rapists, brownshirts, secret police or ethnic cleansing squads waiting to get you. It’s not like the ADF felt the need to send soldiers to die back at your place, or that they’re in Afghanistan now for some wargames and r&r.

  18. Norman Hanscombe

    True, Boggly, so — ? Does that mean i was wrong suggesting the accommodation standards enjoyed by illegals isn’t too bad? It’s true, of course, I wasn’t going to be shot in 1955, when I stood up (to give one small example) and explained to the respected visiting Indonesian education bureaucrats being shown over the college (after THEY began lecturing us on the subject of West New Guinea) that Indonesians were no better than latter day imperialists. I was merely threatened with losing my traineeship, not threatened with the sorts of unpleasant things you mention.

    As is the case with you, however, the Indonesians were such sincere true believers in their cause, they couldn’t enjoy analysing their own ‘argument’. In the same situation you’d have spoken out too, Boggly, and refused to apologise to them, because on principle you always make a principled stand — even if (faced as you obviously must be at the moment by clear and present danger?) you currently need to hide behind a nom de blog. One day I may be as brave as you — although I sincerely doubt it.

    My commiserations to you, Nicolino. Thank God (if there happens to be one) that with the friends I have, and the area where I live, I know no-one who would, “look up to footballer hooligans as heroes”. Wherever you live, consider moving — or at least move in different circles. If you’re mixing with people who, “look down on asylums (sic) seekers as something less than human”, then no matter how much you like them, you should seriously consider finding new friends.

    Shan’t be on line for a day or two; but never fear, I shall return, ever ready to provide guidance — even to those who don’t yet realise they need it.

  19. shepherdmarilyn

    Norman is a moron. Which part of it’s not illegal to arrive here doesn’t he get.

  20. Jim Reiher

    Norman: how can you assume that the parents are using their children to gain sympathy? That was a bit of a slip-up mate… shows your true colours. Nothing to base your stereotypes on… just got ’em.

    You don’t acknowledge the background, the trauma, the age, the desperate plight of these young people. You conveniently brush aside our obligations under the UN charter on refugees which we signed half a century ago… But you can write that off in a short sentence as well – pretending that there is some fine print in it that allows us to ignore its intent. Lame mate… very lame…

  21. Jenny Haines

    Pamela, what are DIAC’s plans re this motel? Is it to be a permanent arrangement? Not that the answer to that question is all that matters, but I am thinking that in summer in Darwin it is going to be stinking hot in those “hotel” rooms. Have approaches been made to the new Minister to lift the processing ban now that the election is over?

  22. Acidic Muse

    There can be no doubt that the Rudd Government’s decision to suspend processing Afghan asylum seekers back in April will go down in infamy as amongst the most disgustingly cynical acts of tyrannical political expediency ever perpetrated by a Labor Government in this country.

    Doubtless I wasn’t alone in almost choking on my own vomit when Kevin Rudd later attempted to warn us that, if elected leader, Julia Gillard would to lurch to the right on asylum seekers – which in the light of that earlier decision can only be seen as a pathetically hypocritical attempt to save his own skin the night before he was deposed. No doubt the emotional vampires of Murdoch’s Right Wing Noise machine will dine out on that one for years to

    Labor’s greatest failing during this election was to join the Toxic Tony’s CoDependancy in a race to the bottom on the issue of asylum seekers.

    Their greatest challenge in this term of Government will therefore be to redeem themselves in the eyes of decent Australian’s – develop a more cogent and compassionate policy that treats all asylum seekers with the same kind of decency any of us would hope for should we ever be unlucky enough to find ourselves seeking asylum from tyranny.

    Part this new strategy MUST be a concerted effort to address the tsunami of toxic misinformation the CoDependency have carefully crafted around this issue.

    There will always be quarter witted bigots who will hate asylum seekers for the pure joy of kicking someone when they are down but never forget they are a tiny vapid yet vocal minority.

    The vast majority of Australians really are compassionate by nature even if some remain ignorant by nurture on this particular issue. So what we require here is a new style of leadership that illuminates the truth and empowers the better angels of human nature in this country.

    In choosing Julia Gillard to lead us, the Independents clearly saw she was far better equipped to provide this kind of leadership than Toxic Tony and his obsessively mean-spirited Toorak Taliban. Now it’s up to all of us to keep up the pressure to ensure she delivers on the promise she has shown

  23. zut alors

    Acidic Muse,

    I fear your final paragraph reeks with an optimism I cannot share. Gillard has never demonstrated any true empathy towards asylum seekers. If you can think of an example I’d be curious to hear it. Yes, Abbott would be the absolute pits in relation to refugees but one suspects Gillard is only marginally better at masking her disinterest in them.

  24. Skepticus Autartikus

    Marilyn Shepherd

    You really do need to go back to school and take a Civics course. But let me save you the trouble.

    Q: Who makes the laws in Australia?

    A: Pssstttt…it isn’t Human Rights Watch or Amnesty.


    I hope that helps.

  25. Skepticus Autartikus

    Acidic Muse

    I can assure you that outside the bed wetters here, nobody gives a rat’s about some irrelevant decision about some asylum seekers years ago.

  26. Norman Hanscombe

    1. Jim Reiher, unless one is a blinkered True Believer, making blind assumptions isn’t necessary. Reading/listening to (and more importantly understanding) the range of materials in the media helps. The only “colours” here are from the Tooth Fairy Brigade’s rose tinted glasses.

    I do (to use your word) “acknowledge” all the problems you list and more, including kids on boats who allegedly don’t even have parents with them. If I didn’t, I would be engaging in the sort of stereotypes you imagine in anyone who dares to not accept your current ‘true faith’ but you don’t notice in yourself

    As for your quaint reference to, “pretending that there is some fine print in it that allows us to ignore its intent, I can only suggest your misinterpretation of the written word, when its meaning doesn’t suit you, is equivalent to a tender-hearted gardener being unable to see an elephant in his pretty petunia patch, because life would be cosier if it weren’t really there. It’s not fine print, Jim, it’s the clear provisions of the relevant laws and agreements. You don’t need reading glasses to find it, merely a willingness to accept what is said, as opposed to imagining what you WISH it said.
    “Lame mate” you say? Alice would say your use of words is “curious and curiouser”, but if it helps you feel ‘noble’, it’s understandable you don’t want to analyse your faith.

    2. So shepherdmarilyn has decided, “Norman is a moron,” and asks, “Which part of it’s not illegal to arrive here doesn’t he get”. I’m prepared — in fact quite enthusiastic about it — to be deemed NOT being in her intellectual class. It would be greedy of me to want more.

    On her second point, if (and I acknowledge cynics among you might see this as highly unlikely) it really can’t be illegal to arrive in Australia, someone needs to stand up for victims who fell prey to racist Australian police, when (for example) boat arrivals were victimized allegedly because they had goods on their yacht. Outrageous!!! No respect for people who merely happened to have a different cultural outlook from the shepherd or me!!!

    But it’s worse. If Marilynseashepherd is right, we need to feel ashamed about the disgraceful manner in which we discouraged boat people from Japan coming here in 42. Clearly that was (in the good shepherd’s ‘thinking’) racially motivated? Surely it’s time someone said sorry?

    After all, in light of Jim Right’s warning above re the spurious nature of ‘fine print’, claims there are defensible distinctions among arrivals, in the end it does mean there isn’t ANYONE who doesn’t have the right to come to this country.

    3. Anyone fot cognitive dissonance?

  27. torshy

    There is nothing illegal about seeking refuge. Nothing. It is not the same as smuggling goods.

    This does not mean that governments have not tried to stop refugees from war and persecution, and will not keep trying to.

    How we respond to these attempts is a measure of our humanity. I suspect writing snide comments with too many cheeky asides in parentheses measures quite low.

  28. Norman Hanscombe

    Full marks, torshy, for working out that seeking refuge is different from smuggling goods. Believe it or not, entering a country illegally isn’t the same as entering it legally either. Whether or not you understand it, each country determines what is legal, and presumably the entrants’ lawyers are doing their job efficiently, so what’s your problem?

    The fact that most Australians don’t share your aspirations may be frustrating; but learning to live with it might be less stressful than pretending the laws are different from what they really are.

    While how we respond is in part (as you say) “a measure of our humanity”, try not to overlook (even if you mightn’t like it?) that another “measure of our humanity” is to be found in our intellectual capacities — not to mention the extent to which we’ve been able to develop them. I suspect, in relationship to your parentheses phobia, that one element of your problem may, in part at least, arise from the fact that your strong emotional responses end up limiting the extent to which you’re able to recognize that one part of what you are overlooking is that parentheses, commas, semi colons, etc., are most frequently used to help break a sentence into managable parts, thus making it less likely a reader such as yourself will lose his way in longer sentences, and end up missing the thrust of the argument. Parentheses should be seen as our friends, then, not enemies,and this applies whether they be snide or non-snide.

    And if I find someone is (as you quaintly call it) “cheeky”, I simply turn the other cheek, and hope they’ll continue trying — to improve themselves, that is.

    Best wishes.

  29. Maddy

    This is an issue that stirs up emotional responses, how could it not? Some argue that seeking asylum is a fundamental human right and, as such, the Australian Government must protect asylum seekers and treat them humanely. While others argue that we need stronger border protection and that “their” problem is not “ours”. Which ever way you argue, the debate over asylum seekers stirs up strong debate, but that is good.

    The most important part of engaging in any political debate is that we are willing to see the point of view of others and that we treat their argument with respect- otherwise we forgoe another fundamental human right: the right to free speech. A number of your arguments rebut the grammar of posts and belittle them, referring to an argument as a “quaint reference” is not the way to get people on side. So let’s cut the crap and the knocking down of straw men and get on to the real arguments.

    As Torshy has correctly pointed out there is nothing illegal about seeking asylum; the term “illegal immigrants” is one which has been created by politicians and the media. People who are legitimately seeking asylum cannot be treated in the same manner as people smugglers, the former commits no crime. But the real question that must be asked is why is there a need for people smugglers? If the governments of developed nations around the world did more to resolve civil conflict, enforce political equality and create better conditions of living in the developing world there would be less asylum seekers fleeing persecution and, therefore, a reduced need for people smugglers.

    So it must be asked, why won’t governments intervene? Because they are afraid. Afraid that they won’t be elected next time around, afraid of the international backlash from rising powers such as China and India, and afraid of what might happen. Well this isn’t a “might” situation, this is reality. People are dying, people are being persecuted, people the Australian Government sends back to their countries of origin are being killed. These are needless deaths, and that should strike at the very core of our humanity.

  30. Norman Hanscombe

    Maddy, as you say, “This is an issue that stirs up emotional responses, how could it not?”

    and, “ Some argue that seeking asylum is a fundamental human right and, as such, the Australian Government must protect asylum seekers and treat them humanely.”

    This doesn’t, however, mean we shouldn’t i) at least try to prevent our emotions blinding us to unpleasnt details, or ii) carefully examine the logical basis on whichpeople discovered the new human ‘rights’ — no matter how painful this process may prove.

    I simply can’t see how sprouting on about ANY side of an issue is “good”, because IF one hopes it’s possible to encourage more people to think carefully about their sacred beliefs, ‘discussion’ has more chance of becoming discussion. An optimistic view, perhaps, but hopefully still worth trying?

    I CAN empathise with the “point of view of others”, but nevertheless remain hopeful that some of them might consider treating the logic of their ‘arguments’ with more respect, including examining whether there are contradictions among the premises, verbalised or non-verbalised, on which they have manufacured their conclusions.

    I’ve usually avoided mentioning grammar unless someone else raised the issue first; but I could be wrong about that. If, however, I’ve used “quaint” unfairly, I’d certainly like to see whichever use of it you deem most unfair.

    Toshy has, as you say, “pointed out” what he sincerely believes to be correct; but his beliefs don’t determine what is law, so no matter how many times a mantra is repeated, its repetition doesn’t affect its truth value.

    The quaintest comment, however, has to be your criticism of ‘racist’ governments such as ours being “afraid of the international backlash from rising powers such as China and India”.

    China and India have more credibility than us re treatment of minorities? Really? Next thing you’ll be wanting us to treat potential migrants like Japan does; treat ethnic minorities like Malaysia does; handle multicultural matters like India does; approach human ‘rights’ in a whole range of areas like China does?

    Or perhaps not?

    Almost forgot, Confucius say, “Scrutable Occidental who live in straw house best not produce so many strawmen.” I know, I know, I shouldn’t joke about sensitive commenters’ problems.

  31. TheTruthHurts

    The poor darlings get free accomodation, chef cooked meals, free phone and internet and a pool out the back and you still sing the sad story.

    What about the ones in the camps Pamela? Uno.. the ones these queue jumpers are stealing spots from, ever shed a tear for them?

  32. Skepticus Autartikus

    This is an issue about AUSTRALIAN laws; OUR laws. “Fundamental human rights” – whatever that means – are irrelevant.

  33. Norman Hanscombe

    I’d suggest, Skepticus Autartikus, that understanding what human rights means IS important. Understand that, and one can understand why adherents to this faith are regularly so glib when referring to them. It’s because the writers are unknowingly adopting the same type of ‘explanation’ for their fundamentalist faith in what they believe constitutes a ‘right’, as any mediaeval monk did in the past, or any taliban terrorist does today.

    Fundamentalists — Taliban, Tooth Fairy, or any other variety of True Believer — all ‘know’ they’re fighting a ‘noble’ fight, so one shouldn’t be too judgmental about them, and instead just be thankful we don’t have too many of the bomb-exploding varieties in Australia — yet.

  34. torshy

    Australia has signed the UN Charter of Human rights which states that everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution.

    Under Australian law, people who arrive in Australia without a visa may apply for and be granted permanent residence if they qualify as genuine refugees.

    There is nothing illegal about arriving here, by boat or by plane, and seeking asylum. The children in Darwin who are locked up have committed no crime, other than to be born somewhere else. They have been incarcerated since April.

    Feel free to call me a terrorist for reminding you of this.

  35. Norman Hanscombe

    Now that we ‘know’ it’s as clear-cut and simple and straight-forward and obvious, and Uncle Tom Cobleyand all an issue as you’ve described above, Ttoshy, all I can say to your squad of legal teams is (provided I’m not breaching copyright, of course) :

    “Where the Bloody Hell are You?”

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