The government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard had recently announced a spate of changes on how to handle potential asylum seekers as they await a decision on their applications for immigration into Australia.
The major changes include the establishment of new facilities and the expansion of existing of existing facilities for new immigrant applicants. Children and other family groups are also to be moved into community accommodation by June 2011. Also, the use of motels and tents as temporary housing on Christmas Island is to be put to an end.
In response, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other human rights advocates in Australia have welcomed the moves, especially the announcement of the movement of children from detention centers into community accommodations. This program would utilize both private and public charities for services as they acclimatize themselves to their new surroundings.
"While we welcome positive moves to take children and some family groups out of detention, we hope that Australia will also consider exploring alternatives to detention for other asylum-seekers who pose no identified health or security risks to the community," the UNCHR's regional spokesman Richard Towle, said in a statement. He then criticized the government's decision to expand the detention network with its East Timor plan.
These new programs are being implemented in the light of the continued push by the Australian government to establish a regional refugee-processing center in East Timor. While there is some resistance in the program, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is still on his tour of Indonesia, Malaysia and East Timor to gain support for the Australian plan.
The continued pressure on the government to take action on the increasing numbers of people has forced these policy changes. The most recent figures from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship indicated that there are over five thousand individuals currently in immigration detention. Amongst them are over seven hundred children.
The detention centers were primarily established to accommodate individuals who have overstayed their visa or breached their visa conditions or had their visa cancelled or refused entry into Australia. The main operator of the centers is Serco that also has existing contracts on immigration residential housing and transitional accommodations. With the rise of incidents in these immigration detention centers, the performance review standards of the service provider have been expanded together with the policy changes being implemented.