Located in the Indian Ocean, 380km south of Java and 2,650 km north-west of Perth, Christmas Island is a 135 square kilometre territory of Australia.
The remote island has become infamous due to its number of boats arrivals, largely from Indonesia, which transport refugees and asylum seekers to Australia. Often hundreds of refugees are crammed onto small, un-seaworthy vessels by paying large amounts of money to people smugglers. In the past four years, over 300 boats have landed on the island.
The Department of Immigration constructed the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre in 2006 to house refugees and asylum seekers while their claims were being processed. At a cost of approximately $400 million, the centre now houses 800 persons, and has a contingency capacity of 1116. Since 2008, over 7000 asylum seekers have been processed through Christmas Island detention facilities.
In 2001, Christmas Island was the site of the Tampa affair, whereby the Howard Government refused the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa permission to enter Australian waters. The Tampa had rescued 438 asylum seekers from a sinking 35 metre Indonesian fishing boat on its way to Christmas Island. After three days, the asylum seekers were transferred to a navy boat and taken to Nauru as part of the Pacific Solution. Many of the asylum seekers have since been resettled in New Zealand.
Another incident which put Christmas Island back in the headlines took place on the 15th of December 2010. A boat carrying up to 100 asylum seekers crashed into cliffs off Christmas Island, killing 28 people, including women and children. Graphic photos of the incident showed people desperately trying to keep themselves afloat in the rough sea.