SYDNEY – The Australian government announced on Wednesday the reopening of its Christmas Island Immigration Detention Center following the passing of a bill to facilitate the medical evacuation of asylum seekers and refugees the administration holds offshore.
“We have approved putting in place the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference.
Christmas island, an Australian territory located on 380 kilometers from Indonesia’s Java island, was until 2012 the point of arrival of boats of undocumented migrants trying to seek asylum in the Oceanic country.
In 2010 a boat of 90 asylum seekers – mostly from Iraq and Iran – sank off the island, killing 48 people on board.
Canberra then toughened its policy against illegal immigration and in 2012 reopened its asylum processing centers Nauru and Manus island, keeping asylum seekers out of Australia, and where a thousand remain in conditions widely criticized by medical professionals, rights groups and the United Nations.
Morrison said the reopening of Christmas island center would strengthen the capacity of Operation Sovereign Borders, the government’s controversial border protection operation aimed at stopping boat arrivals to the country.
“My job now is to ensure that the boats don’t come. My job now is to do everything within my power and in the power of the government to ensure that what the parliament has done to weaken our borders does not result in boats coming to Australia,” said Morrison.
The reopening of the center on Christmas island, which was closed in 2018, was announced a few months before an election in Australia. The date has not been announced but it is expected to be in May.
The measure follows a the passing of a bill that facilitates medical evacuations of refugees on Manus and Nauru to Australia, which was approved on Tuesday in the Lower House and ratified Wednesday by the Senate.
Last year, a campaign was intensified in Australia to medevac immigrants held at the Pacific centers following complaints from doctors and humanitarian organizations about the deterioration of the mental health of inmates, especially minors.
Many of the immigrants that Australia intercepts have fled conflict-ridden countries or regions such as Afghanistan, Darfur, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria, or have escaped conditions of discrimination or statelessness such as the minority Rohingyas in Myanmar or the Biduns in the Persian Gulf.