October 25, 2013
Immigration officials have been telling more than 2,000 asylum seekers held on Christmas Island that they have a choice: return to their country of origin or face indefinite detention.
Under new Federal Government rules, any asylum seeker who arrived by boat after July 19 can be sent offshore for indefinite detention or returned to their country of origin.
It is not clear what the response of the Christmas Island detainees has been.
But in Darwin, where more than 1,000 people are living in four separate detention centres, some detainees have told the ABC are prepared to remain locked up rather than face persecution or even death in their country of origin.
Every Thursday evening, members of the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support Network (DASSAN) gather outside the Airport Lodge immigration detention centre, just a few hundred metres from Darwin Airport.
They set up protest placards and talk through a cyclone wire fence to the men, women and children living in converted shipping containers at the centre.
“What we’ve seen is a move away from a decision where people are having their claims assessed to one where people are completely without any idea about what’s going to happen to them,” DASSAN member Peter Robson said.
Last night, a crowd of asylum seekers came to the fence as the ABC approached with a camera crew.
“I have no home right now,” one asylum seeker said.
“Where should I live? I should live in Afghanistan? I have never seen Afghanistan.”
Another woman said through a translator that she was brought to Darwin for medical treatment but she wants to return to Christmas Island, where her family is.
Outside of detention, there are about 21,000 people in Australia on bridging visas awaiting the outcome of their asylum claims.
Many of the people the ABC spoke to have been brought to Darwin from Christmas Island for medical treatment. They are from Afghanistan, Vietnam, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.
Detainees in the dark about their future
“If they tell us we’re going to stay here for a year, two years, five years we don’t have problem,” another asylum seeker said.
“But they don’t tell us. And maybe, before I came here on Christmas Island my transfer was cancelled three times.”
Several of the women have recently given birth or are about to have a child. Mr Robson says four women who had recently given birth were sent offshore with little notice.
“What we do know is that they were woken up at 5am, they were ushered out of their rooms.
“They had an opportunity to make a phone call, which is why we know what happened to them, and then they were simply put on a plane and taken to Christmas Island.”
Some of the asylum seekers the ABC spoke to knew they would not be allowed to stay in Australia but said they would be prepared to stay in detention indefinitely rather than face death in their country of origin.
Not one of the more than 10 asylum seekers the ABC spoke to knows what is going to happen to them.
One man said through a translator that he is afraid of contractor Serco, saying they knock on his door and tell him to go back to Christmas Island.
Under the new Federal Government, any asylum seeker who arrived by boat after July 19 could be sent offshore for indefinite detention or returned to their country of origin.
Several of the people the ABC spoke to did not want to return to the Christmas Island detention centre because they say it is overcrowded, there are not enough toilets for everyone and people have to line up for hours to get a meal.