April 16, 2013
The Immigration Department has delivered a scathing assessment of its own temporary accommodation for asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, saying the living arrangements are cramped and present “key risks in terms of safety and health”.
In a submission to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, the department states there is an urgent need to replace the regional processing centre with a permanent facility.
The temporary centre has been set up with army-style tents and portable-style buildings for accommodation, ablutions, catering and administrative purposes.
It currently houses 276 asylum seekers and can cater for a maximum of 500.
The department’s submission states the centre has no reliable power supply, limited potable water and the buildings and tents have a “very short life expectancy”.
It says the military-style tents are subject to “degradation from humidity and high use” and “each tent has reticulated 240v power which can be unsafe in wet conditions”.
“Transferees have complained about the heat which is a contributing factor to behavioural issues,” the submission states.
“In addition the site is in a low-lying swampy area subject to localised inundation which encourages mosquito breeding.”
It says the centre has limited recreational facilities that are in a poor state, and points to that as a contributing factor of increased tension.
“Transferees are subject to boredom which contributes to a focus on the progress of their refugee status determination,” the submission states.
“Past experience in the Australian immigration detention network indicates that limited amenity and space quickly leads to behavioural changes which in turn can lead to substantial increases in health and security costs.
“This includes an increased risk of self-harm, mental health problems, and problematic behaviour.”
Even the centre’s most basic function – processing the asylum seeker claims – is compromised.
“Private interview rooms at the temporary facility do not have adequate infrastructure to support processing of refugee status assessments,” the submission states.
It says the PNG government has not agreed to a permanent facility on the current site and “an alternative site is under consideration”.
Once a new site has been approved, the submission states, the PNG government expects a permanent centre to be built “as a priority”.
The department says the new centre is being designed to accommodate 600 people, including families and other vulnerable groups, at an estimated cost of $171 million.
It will provide improved amenities, including a gym, sports fields, canteen, library and separate rooms for education, computer use and religious purposes.
There will also be purpose-built accommodation for 200 staff.
Construction is planned to begin in July and is expected to take about six months.
The submission has prompted Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young to again call for children and families to be transferred off Manus Island.
“The Manus Island detention centre is an absolute disgrace,” she said.
“It’s inhumane, it’s unsafe and it is making refugees, including children in particular, very, very sick.”
The Immigration Department has also confirmed that a fourth refugee involved in a hunger strike at Melbourne’s Broadmeadows centre was last night taken to hospital.
A group of about two dozen mainly Tamil refugees has been refusing food for more than a week.
They have been granted refugee status but are being detained because they have been denied a security clearance by ASIO.
The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, says refugees should be able to appeal such assessments.
“Non-citizens – and these are non citizens, albeit refugees – do not have a right to appeal to the usual processes that are available through the administrative appeals tribunal, and that means that they’re completely cut out from any reasonable capacity to have judicial review,” she said.
Meanwhile, some of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers who arrived by boat at the Western Australian town ofGeraldton last week appear destined to be flown back home.
A total of 66 asylum seekers were on the boat which made it all the way to the harbour town without being detected by border protection authorities.
It was the first time an asylum seeker boat had made it to the mainland in five years.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor says there will be an announcement “very shortly” about sending some of the arrivals back to Sri Lanka.