Canberra, Jan 2 (IANS) The Australian government on Wednesday announced the closure of two onshore immigration detention facilities, saying its efforts to stop people seeking asylum by boat has reduced the number of people in detention.
In a move that the government claimed as a win for its tough border protection policies, Immigration Minister David Coleman said that Maribyrnong in Melbourne and Villawood in Sydney would be closed.
They mark the 18th and 19th immigration detention centres closed by this government during its two terms in power.
There are approximately 1,250 people currently in Australia’s eight remaining immigration detention centres, down from 10,200 in mid-2013, SBS News reported.
“The government has stopped the boats, got the children out of detention and closed the once-full immigration detention facilities,” Coleman said in a statement.
Maribyrnong was closed immediately after the remaining 107 detainees were transferred while Villawood will be shut down by the middle on 2019.
Stopping asylum seekers from coming to Australia by boat was one of the key pillars of the Liberal National Party’s 2013 election campaign where it won power from the Australian Labour Party (ALP).
“Under the previous Labour government, 50,000 people arrived on 800 boats, 1,200 people tragically drowned at sea and 8,000 children were put in detention,” Coleman said.
“At its peak in July 2013, there were more than 10,000 people held in immigration detention facilities in Australia, including 2,000 children.”
Every single one of those children who were in detention in 2013 have now been removed, he said. The minister attacked Labour over its border protection policies, saying the former government was “forced to open 17 detention centres to deal with the catastrophic failures of their policies”.
The current government’s closures saved the country 500 million Australian dollars ($352.4 million), he added.
However, Refugee Action Coalition group dismissed the government’s decision to close two immigration detention centres as an “empty gesture”.
The group’s spokesperson Ian Rintoul called it a “meaningless announcement”.
“The fact is that the government has increased detention capacity with new compounds being opened at Yongah Hill, and a high detention facility opening in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, to replace Maribynong,” he said.
“There has been no significant decrease in the numbers of people detained on the mainland. In November 2018, there were 544 people who had been in detention more than one year — up from 505 in September 2018.”
“Worse, it is inexcusable that the numbers of people being held in detention longer than a year keeps growing. In November 2018, 281 people had been in detention over two years,” he said.