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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Australia shuts asylum camp
Refugees breakout from the Woomera Detention Centre in March 2002
Woomera was criticised for its remote location and basic facilities
Australia has shut down a notorious asylum camp which has been the focus of criticism against the country's punitive asylum policy.

Woomera camp, in the remote South Australian outback, has been the scene of mass breakouts and violent protests.

At its peak it held more than 1,400 illegal migrants awaiting processing by the authorities.

The Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, announcing plans for the closure last year, said that Woomera was getting old and was no longer suitable.

The United Nations has criticised conditions at the camp, and an all-party parliamentary committee in 2001 declared Woomera the worst of the country's seven detention centres.

Human rights group welcomed the closure on Thursday, but called for the camp to be destroyed, rather than just mothballed, as the government plans.

The camp, which opened in 1999, attracted particular attention last year, when human rights activists helped about 50 detainees escape from the centre.

More than 150 asylum seekers also went on hunger strike and a handful sewed their lips together in protest against the conditions and length of their detention.

Howard Glenn, director of the human rights group A Just Australia, welcomed the centre's closure as "the end of this era, a black chapter in Australia's history".

But he added that he feared it could be used by a future administration if not destroyed.

"We're actually hoping the place will be torn down rather than mothballed and wait for a moment of madness from another government to put it into use," Mr Glenn said.

Woomera has been superseded by a newer facility in South Australia - Baxter - which provides a greater degree of security.

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