Australia

Christmas Island detention centre to reopen due to coronavirus pressure on Australian mainland

The Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre will be re-opened. Source: AAP

Border Force confirmed the facility will be reopened to help relieve "capacity pressure" across Australia during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Australian Border Force has confirmed preparations are underway to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre.

In a statement on Tuesday night, Border Force said the reopening of the facility, located more than 1,500 kilometres from the Australian mainland, would help relieve "capacity pressure" in detention centres across the country.

The agency said its ability to deport detainees has been “curtailed” due to global coronavirus measures which have closed borders and reduced international flights.

The capacity of existing centres has also been reduced due to social distancing measures.

“With unlawful non-citizens continuing to move from prison to immigration detention, and with required COVID-19 distancing measures in place within the detention network, this is placing the detention network under pressure,” a Border Force spokesperson said.

“To relieve capacity pressure across the detention network in Australia, detainees will be temporarily transferred to the immigration detention facility at North West Point on Christmas Island in the weeks ahead.”

Border Force said the detainees who will be transferred to the facility have been convicted of criminal offences.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison poses on the Christmas Island jetty
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison poses on the Christmas Island jetty
AAP

The North West Point facility was shut down by the federal government in October 2018. It was briefly reopened in 2019 but did not house any detainees. 

It was also used in February to quarantine Australians evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic.

Its reopening has been criticised by human rights advocates who fear relocating detainees to a remote location during the COVID-19 pandemic poses an increased health risk.

Rights groups have been concerned about the possibility of coronavirus outbreaks in immigration detention facilities since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The government clearly knows people are at risk in their crowded immigration detention centres - it beggars belief that they are going to such extraordinary lengths to avoid a humane and logical solution,” Human Rights Law Centre legal director David Burke said.

“By reopening detention facilities on a remote island, thousands of kilometres from specialist medical care, [Home Affairs Minister Peter] Dutton has chosen a dangerous and cruel response to a public health crisis.”

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre advocacy director Jana Favero was also worried about the mental and physical health of detainees relocated to the centre.

“Instead of following the advice of medical professionals, the government is resorting to removing people offshore to Christmas Island, intentionally out of sight and far away from their case workers, legal representation and community support networks, risking mental health even further,” Ms Favero said.

A family of Tamil asylum seekers - Nades and Priya Murugappan and their two daughters - are currently the only immigration detainees on Christmas Island. 

They are not housed in the same detention facility being reopened.

Priya was evacuated from the island by air for medical treatment in Perth recently following two weeks of crippling abdominal pain.

The family, who originally settled in the regional Queensland town of Biloela, were moved to the island after a court injunction stopped a government attempt to deport them to Sri Lanka.

The family remains in limbo, with their refugee claim pending.

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