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23 August 2012
Fact-finding missions by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) have shown that the asylum seeker detention centres on Nauru and Manus, Papua New Guinea, are in poor states of repair. Last week the Australian government legislated to re-open the centres, which were closed down eight years ago when the Australian Labor Party came to power. The Australian Home Office Minister Jason Clare said last week that the Nauru centre would be opened 'in weeks not months'.
However, the ADF mission to Manus found that the detention centre there has become a 'termite infested ruin'; the mission to Nauru found that this too was in need of a great deal of work. On Manus, termites have made the wooden buildings dangerous and uninhabitable. On Nauru, the camp is less dilapidated but will need to be renovated before it can reopen. Speaking on Nauru, the Australian Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said 'there is a considerable amount of work to be done here. As we've said all along, those who argued that there was a detention facility at Nauru ready to go that could be rebuilt at no or minimal cost are incorrect.'
There is considerable support for the re-opening of the centre on Nauru where the local people see potential economic benefit from the facility. The Australian government wants to house 1,500 asylum seekers on Nauru but this will cost a great deal of money. In January, an assessment by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) found that a centre containing 700 inmates would cost AUS$2bn over four years.
The operation of offshore asylum seeker centres in remote Pacific Islands is known in Australia as 'the Pacific Solution'. Australia's Labor government performed a U-turn on its immigration policy because of the numbers of asylum seekers who are arriving in Australia. The Australian broadcaster ABC has reported that even since the policy was reversed last week, 500 more asylum seekers have arrived in nine boats. Mr Bowen said 'Of course you're going to find people smugglers and asylum seekers trying it on. Some of these people would've already paid their money and would've said "We have nothing to lose by coming to Australia". Others now will make a different choice.'Both the government and the opposition support the new policy. Only the Green Party oppose the re-opening of the camps. However, the new Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Professor Gillian Triggs, has voiced concerns about the new policy. She says that the new rules have 'stripped away the human rights protections that were in the Migration Act and…weakened the capacity to come before the court.'
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