Aussies Mull Future of Refugee Center
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SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Government advisers have recommended closing a remote desert camp for holding illegal immigrants, officials said Tuesday, a step that would meet a demand of detainees on a hunger strike.
Nearly 250 asylum seekers, most of them Afghans, were continuing a two-week-old hunger strike demanding they be moved from the Woomera center and that delays in their applications for refugee status be cleared up. Some have sewn their lips together in protest.
The Woomera detention center is at a former missile testing base on a parched, dusty plain hundreds of miles from the nearest major town. Temperatures regularly top 104.
``Woomera is an extremely harsh environment in which to detain anybody,″ said Paris Aristotle, a member of the government’s Immigration Detention Advisory Group, which recommended the center’s closing.
The protests come amid a growing chorus of domestic and international criticism of the Australian government’s hard-line policy of locking up all illegal immigrants while their asylum applications are considered _ a process which can take three years.
There are about 3,000 illegal immigrants mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and southern Asia currently in detention in five camps across Australia.
The number of hunger strikers at Woomera had been as high as 370. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs said Tuesday that 246 asylum seekers were still strikiing. Some residents of other camps have also joined the strike.
On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said that the Woomera center could be scaled down as other holding facilities were built. Closing Woomera might also be possible in the future, he added.
``Whatever approach you take, Woomera will be required for certain contingencies and quite possibly for holding other groups of people who have exhausted their asylum claim opportunities,″ he said.
Ruddock also said that 67 of the hundreds of detainees at Woomera have exhausted all options in applying for refugee status and will be deported.
They ``are not asylum seekers but are now unlawful arrivals who we’d expect to go home,″ he said.
Meanwhile, nine 18-year-old detainees at Woomera vowed to harm themselves Wednesday evening if they were not moved out, camp resident Hassan Varasi told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
On Tuesday, the government removed nine other children from Woomera and placed them under the care of the department of human services after they threatened to commit suicide by throwing themselves on razor wire, the government said.