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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 06:47 GMT 07:47 UK
Australian asylum camps under scrutiny
Escapees scaling the perimeter fence of Woomera camp
Woomera was the scene of a mass break-out in March
The United Nations has begun investigating Australia's system of mandatory detention of illegal immigrants by visiting one of the country's most notorious centres.

Asylum seekers at South Australia's troubled Woomera detention centre had told activists they were planning to greet the UN delegation with a hunger strike.


They've been in there for months, some of them have been in there for years and they are very desperate people

Activist Ross Parry
The remote desert camp has been the scene of rioting, hunger strikes and escapes over the past year.

The detainees are angry at the length of time taken to process their asylum claims.

"They're generally gearing up to hopefully make an impact, they wanted to draw attention to the seriousness of how they see the situation," a protester, Ross Parry, told Australia's ABC radio.

"They've been in there for months, some of them have been in there for years and they are very desperate people."

But a spokesman for Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock denied there was a hunger strike.

"Nobody at the management centre knows about it and people are still turning up for meals," he said.

Indian judge Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati, envoy for UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mary Robinson, was to spend the day interviewing detainees along with a UN team.

Petitioned

The UN officials asked to visit the centre after about 600 asylum seekers sent them a petition earlier this year.

The group will also visit detention centres in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, and will stay in the country until 6 June.

They will report their findings to next year's session of the Commission on Human Rights.

Map
The UN, along with international human rights groups, has criticised Australia for its policy of detaining all illegal immigrants while their asylum claims are processed.

There have been several riots at various camps in Australia, by detainees protesting at the length of time their applications have taken. Some immigrants can wait more than three years for a decision.

Last week Australia announced it will offer Afghan detainees who have not been granted refugee status, or who are still waiting for a decision on their applications, $1,100 (Aus $2,000) each to head home.

The Australian Government said the money would be paid as part of a package of measures to persuade people to leave now that Afghanistan's former ruling Taleban have been ousted from power.


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