In a major backflip, the Rudd Government will re-open the controversial Curtin detention centre near Derby to house asylum seekers in a bid to ease crowding on Christmas Island.
The move follows the Government’s shock decision earlier this month to impose a ban on the processing of asylum visas for Afghanis and Sri Lankans for six and three months respectively.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans confirmed the move during a press conference in Perth this morning.
“As a result of (last week’s decision to suspend) applications for asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, we’ll be opening a new immigration facility at the Curtin Air Base,” he said.
“Previously, it’s been used for this purpose and initially we’ll be upgrading the facility to accommodate that cohort of persons who have had their asylum claims suspended.
“We need to find an appropriate secure facility to deal with these asylum seekers. “I expect the centre to be operational following completion of the initial upgrade.” It is expected it will take several weeks before the centre is brought up to a state where it can again begin housing asylum seekers.
Senator Evans said the first group of asylum seekers, who are subject to a three-month suspension for Sri Lankans and a six-month suspension for Afghans, would be moved from Christmas Island detention centre to Curtin as soon as the upgrades were finished. Senator Evans said he did not know the final cost of expanding Curtin, but said it would be “considerable”. “We will have to invest considerably in the centre,” he said. The Curtin detention centre was closed in 2002 under the Howard Government amid concern over the treatment of some detainees and violent clashes between security staff and some refugees.
The Christmas Island detention centre has become badly overcrowded in recent weeks, with a massive surge in the number of boats arriving in Australian waters. Insiders feared the Island detention camp would only become more crowded with the Government’s visa ban, as the boats would not stop coming and more and more people would have to be crammed into the camp.