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Australia urged to shut asylum camp
Rights group condemns conditions at Christmas Island detention facility.
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2009 08:43 GMT
Amnesty International said conditions at the camp were unacceptable

A human rights group has called for the immediate closure of Australia's Christmas Island detention centre for asylum seekers, saying the camp was out-of-step with the government's stated values.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Amnesty International said investigators visited the island in early December to inspect the immigration detention facilities and to gain a comprehensive overview of the human rights situation.

Amnesty said it was concerned about overcrowding at the camp in the remote Australian territory, which lies about 500km south of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

"Of particular concern are the significant and disturbing levels of overcrowding within the North West Point immigration detention centre, which has led to the use of tent and demountable accommodation, and the lack of ready access to essential services such as adequate mental health care," the group said.

'Unacceptable'

The centre currently holds more than 1,400 asylum seekers, with about 1,000 people being held in facilities that were originally intended for only 400.

The camp was criticised for overcrowding[Amnesty International]
Amnesty said the logistical challenges of operating the camp in such a remote location means that it cannot be an effective or humane method of dealing with asylum seekers.

Dr Graham Thom, the refugee co-ordinator for Amnesty International Australia, said the situation was "completely unacceptable".

"Immigration detention on Christmas Island should be stopped," he said.

"The policy of excision is not working. It does not have a deterrent effect on people seeking protection from persecution and constitutes a fundamental breach of Australia's international obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention."

'Extreme trauma'

Amnesty said it is also concerned that some inmates, including children, were held at the centre for more than a year while their asylum claims were processed.

"Many asylum seekers arrive in Australia suffering extreme trauma. Extended periods of detention and uncertainty are hugely detrimental to their mental health," Amnesty said, urging the government to improve processing time for all asylum seekers.

Amnesty investigators also met some of the Christmas Island residents, now outnumbered by asylum seekers, who said the island's infrastructure and resources were struggling to cope with the increased population.

The island has a permanent population of 1,100, and over 300 people have employment working with the asylum seekers.

Most asylum seekers are from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq. There have been outbreaks of rioting between the national groups.

Following its 2007 election win, Australia's Labor government dismantled tough immigration and asylum laws and closed down detention centres in small Pacific island countries saying that detention would only be used for security.

It has, however, increased ships and aircraft patrolling the remote north coast to intercept boats before they reach Australian soil.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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