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Christmas Island Detainees: Inspection of conditions

Commission Commission – General

December 2001

Media Statement
by President Professor Alice Tay, AM,

Christmas Island
Inspection of conditions

On 29 November and
4 December 2001 the Commission received complaints from concerned residents
of Christmas Island about the conditions of detention of asylum seekers
detained on Christmas Island and in particular those detainees housed
in the Sports Hall.

HREOC investigation
officers arrived on Christmas Island on 7 December to inspect the conditions
of detention of the Sports Hall and Phosphate Hill, which is the other
site on Christmas Island where detainees are being housed.

The officers interviewed
local Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) and the Department of
Immigration, Multicultural, and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) officers and
conducted formal interviews with a number of detainees who are being held
in the Sports Hall.

Since 14 November,
172 asylum seekers have been detained in the Sports Hall. Of these there
are 132 adult males, 12 adult females, 11 female children, and 17 male
children, two of whom are not accompanied by parents.

The Sports Hall is
a large corrugated iron shed with three external roller doors. Ventilation
is provided by six ceiling fans, four windows at the top of the left hand
wall and doors at the front and back of the Hall.

The ACM officers
have a desk at the front door. Narrow stretcher beds lined up next to
each other with a space of about 20 cms between them cover around three
quarters of the Hall floor. A few lines of plastic seating are at one
side of the Hall.

All the men, women,
girls and boys live and sleep on identical canvas stretchers. There are
no partitions. The families are grouped in one corner. The families interviewed
complained of the closeness of the other men's beds. There are no lockers
or cupboards for personal belongings. No children were observed playing
with any toys.

The Hall is noisy
due to the number of people being held there and the operation of the
ceiling fans. The windows and doors in the Hall provide little natural
light. As Christmas Island is experiencing its wet season the temperature
was hot and the conditions very humid.

Until 1 December
2001 detainees were only able to leave the Hall for about 20 minutes a
day on a rotational basis. Since that time women and children have been
able to visit the Sports Ground for 1.5 to 2 hours a day and from around
5 December 2001 male detainees have been able to spend up to four hours
a day in the small enclosed area at the back of the Hall.

The detainees on
Christmas Island have virtually no contact with the world outside the
centre. From interviews with detainees in the Sports Hall it was clear
to the HREOC officers that detainees have not been informed of the legal
rights which accrue to everyone who has been taken into detention and
deprived of their liberty, such as the right to contact appropriate consular
and diplomatic representatives and to obtain legal advice about their
situation. They also had not been informed of the changes to the Migration
Act 1958
and what this might mean for their ability to engage Australia's
protection obligations.

Detainees on Christmas
Island are not allowed to use the telephone or send letters. The only
means of contact permitted outside the centre has been via a facsimile
to families to advise that they are well and in Australia. Most detainees
however, whose families do not have access to a facsimile machine, have
not been able to make contact with their families. Detainees are also
not allowed to read newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio.

The President considers
the matter to be of such a serious nature that the government needed to
be informed of this situation as a matter of urgency. A letter was sent
to the Prime Minister, the Attorney- General and the Acting Minister for
Immigration on 12 December 2001 outlining these serious concerns and enclosing
photographs taken by the officers.

The President of
the Commission called on the government to act in a humanitarian manner
and to rectify immediately the living conditions of the people in the
Sports Hall.

As part of the President's
formal inquiry into this complaint she will accept any information relevant
to the conditions of detention on Christmas Island. Information should
be provided to her by Friday 11 January 2002 marked to the attention of
the Director, Complaint Handling Section, GPO Box 5218, Sydney, NSW 1042.

An advertisement
will also be placed in the Christmas Island paper, The Islander.

Photos have been
placed on the Commission's website to illustrate the conditions in the
Sports Hall at:
(They may not be suitable for print reproduction).

Media contact: Janine
MacDonald 02 9284 9880 (W) 0408 469 347 (M)


updated 2 December 2001.