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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Australia's detention camps criticised
Australian detention camp
Some immigrants spend years in the camps
By Dominic Hughes in Sydney

Human rights groups and asylum seekers have repeatedly criticised conditions at Australia's detention centres for illegal immigrants.

Many of the centres are in extremely remote areas, meaning that legal help is hundreds of kilometres away.

Detainees said the long delay in processing their claims had driven some to attempt suicide

For Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock this is a bonus - it means that no one would try and escape when faced with a big, empty desert.

But the location also made visits by family members extremely difficult and raised concerns that the illegal immigrants were being keep out of sight of an inquisitive local media.

Intense heat

At the Woomera detention centre, a former missile base in South Australia, there were initial fears that the detainees, including women and children, would suffer in the intense heat of summer.

A Chinese immigrant in an Australian detention centre
Illegal immigrants say they being kept out of sight

These fears were allayed to some degree by the announcement that air conditioning had been installed in the prefabricated buildings used for accommodation.

But temperatures at Woomera and some of the other detention centres can easily exceed 40 degrees centigrade in summer.

Environmental considerations aside, there are practical issues to contend with.

Former detainees have complained that public telephones are few and far between, making it extremely difficult to inform friends and relatives of a safe, if illegal, arrival in Australia.

It also makes arranging legal representation extremely difficult. Detainees also complained that they are given no information about their future while at the centres.

Brutality allegations

Other former residents of the detention centres have complained of the treatment they received at the hands of staff.

The centres are run by private security firms, but ministers have insisted that there has been no truth to allegations of brutality.

Former residents have complained of the treatment they received at the hands of staff

There were also far darker allegations of child abuse at one of the centres, a row that is still rumbling on.

The Refugee Council for Australia has complained about the way the case has been handled.

But the protests about the physical conditions at the detention centres have been dwarfed by those concerned with the time that asylum applications have taken to process.

Many complained that their applications were taking longer than six months to process.


It was this that sparked mass breakouts last year at the Woomera centre last year, as well as two detention centres in Western Australia.

Detainees said that the long delay in processing their claims had driven some to attempt suicide.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
Mr Ruddock takes a tough stance
A United Nations committee has also criticised the delays in the decision making process, as well as the policy of imprisoning women and children.

Australia was accused of failing to honour its commitments to international treaties it had signed on the treatment of refugees.

Meanwhile ministers argue that asylum seekers and other illegal immigrants are always held in humane conditions, often better than those they came from.

The centres, if not comfortable, are adequate, and allow officials to process claims quickly and efficiently.

They also ensure the residents do not disappear into the community.

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