Christmas Island "mental illness clock" moves to One Minute to midnight

Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Western Australia 6312
Office (08) 9881-5651
Mobile 0417 090 130

Additional Contact:
Whyalla Rural Australians for Refugees Advocate:
Mr Allan Nield [phone number posted]

Christmas Island "mental illness clock" moves to One Minute to midnight

Media Release
Wednesday January 27, 2010 7:00am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

• Phones confiscated, banned
• At least 11 "harmless" detainees are held in isolation cells
• Number of detainees in detention for 12 months or more rapidly increases
• Christmas Island detention centre seriously overcrowded

Phones confiscated, banned

"Breaking news from Christmas Island that mobile phones, sent to many detainees by Australian advocates right around the country, have been confiscated and have now been 'banned' by Immigration Department officials, provides a grim sense of truth and a stark reminder of relevance to the Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorrie's comments about detention centres being 'factories for mental illness' ", WA human rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.

"Regardless of all the promises made by the Rudd government to have accountability and openness in its immigration detention process, in which also phones sent by advocates were allowed since coming to government, the Immigration Department did not like it when what really goes on in detention, especially when there are conflicts and when there is tension, started appearing in media reports in January," spokesman Jack H Smit said.

"According to advocates, the decision to ban phones is linked to negative media reports based on phone contacts with detainees about a meeting between Sri Lankan asylum seekers and DIAC after tensions had arisen."

"Clearly, the Immigration Department does not like it when their failures are reported by their clients. The Department may claim that people are 'our business' but when the gloss wears off officials are happy to resort to the policy of the bad old days of the Howard government."

Whyalla Rural Australians for Refugees Advocate Allan Nield [ph 08-8645-4397] has told Project SafeCom that he sees the banning and confiscation of phones indeed as a return to the days of the Howard government.

Isolation cells

At least 11 detainees have been placed in isolation cells since they were last week charged in relation to a riot. This is clearly a punitive regime where the declaration of 'guilty' goes before the presumption of innocence: advocates have reported to Project SafeCom that at least two of those charged were not involved in the riot.

"The Christmas Island detention centre is rapidly becoming a time bomb," Mr Smit said. "The number of detainees whose case assessment cannot be completed within the preferred time frame of 90 days is steadily increasing, with some inmates approaching the ominous one-year detention term, while the centre is dangerously overcrowded."

"In the face of continuous howls from the conservative opposition, Rudd Labor has proven itself too weak-kneed to start offloading Christmas Island by processing people on the mainland in Darwin as suggested by Chris Evans last year, and it has been too freaked out to fulfill Chris Evans' promise that there is no need to keep people in detention after initial health and security checks: nobody gets flown off the island, nobody gets issued with a bridging visa to start life on the mainland once health and security processing is complete."

"The timebomb on Christmas Island is ticking and ticking. If it explodes through riots and through the onset of mental illness, Professor McGorrie will be proven correct - but it will also be too late for many currently in detention," Mr Smit concluded.

Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]

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