Advertisement

'Living Hell': Refugees Scared Of Being Sent To Christmas Island

Christmas Island's detention centre is a "living hell" and people in Australia's immigration detention system are petrified of being sent there, as the government moves to reopen the previously-shuttered facility.

In the wake of the passage of the medevac transfers bill through parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week the government would begin using the recently-closed centre again.

Morrison claimed the medical transfers legislation would entice people smugglers to restart asylum boat voyages to Australia, necessitating the reopening of Christmas Island.

But on Monday night, Department of Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo revealed many medical transfers from Manus Island and Nauru would end up on the tiny speck of an island, far closer to Indonesia than Australia -- an admission that sparked fury and shock.

Independent MP Kerryn Phelps, who inspired the medevac bill, called it "a subversion of our entire model of representative democracy", while Greens MP Adam Bandt threatened to vote for a possible no-confidence motion in the government over the revelation.

READ MORE: The Anatomy Of A Historic Government Loss In Parliament

READ MORE: 'I Wish I Died In The Boat': Refugees Forgotten In Debate Over Medical Transfer Bill

But while politicians rage over the politics of the situation, those who could be directly affected by the reopening of the infamous Christmas Island facility are worried.

"It's a living hell," Ali, a Middle Eastern refugee who spent more than six months in the detention centre in 2015, told 10 daily.

"When I woke up in the mornings, all you can hear is detainees screaming."

Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre (AAP Image/Andrea Hayward)

"Anyone who tells you it is a detention centre, it's not. It's like a prison. It's not like Villawood [detention centre in Sydney], it's two-storey with bars like a prison," he continued.

Another former Christmas Island detainee, Abdul, said the centre was "a thousand times worse than prison".

10 daily has spoken to refugees in both on-shore and off-shore detention, who are concerned about being sent to Christmas Island. Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian journalist and refugee on Manus Island, told 10 daily that men there had not been told much about Christmas Island, but were worried.

"Keeping people in indefinite detention for years has made these people sick and transferring them to another prison camp certainly does not solve the problem," he said.

The Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre in 2010 (AAP Image/Andrea Hayward)

Ali, who said he was found to be a genuine refugee but remains in detention in Australia due to an adverse character assessment, painted a picture of a centre where people detained for overstaying visas or other immigration breaches mixed with hardened criminals and members of bikie gangs.

"There were instances where refugees would be bashed in the toilet. I remember one time, I heard screaming in the bathroom and a refugee being brutally bashed by a gang of bikies, and an officer walking past," Ali claimed.

"If you go in alone and you're not part of a gang, they would stand over you for everything. Your shoes, your watch. You lose your dignity."

READ MORE: Scott Morrison Reopens Christmas Island Detention Centre

READ MORE: Senate Spotlight On Paladin $423m Manus Island Contract

Ali and other former detainees said food was "soggy" and often "expired", phone and internet access was severely limited, and self-harm was rife.

Kon Karapanagiotidis, CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, called the centre "horrifying", and compared it to "a prototype of a model of extreme surveillance and oppression".

The centre was the scene of several large riots, including most recently in 2015 where millions in damage was caused after the death of a detainee. The centre was closed in October 2018, after all detainees were transferred out.

After Morrison announced its re-opening last week, Pezzullo admitted in a Senate estimates hearing on Monday night that Christmas Island would be the destination for many refugees transferred from Manus or Nauru.

Some of the damage caused by the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre disturbance in 2015 (AAP Image/MP Peter Dutton Office)

"It goes without saying that if specialised treatment is only available on the mainland then the mainland will be utilised,” he added.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said on Tuesday "if the medical treatment is delivered and delivered on Christmas Island and it makes people well, that’s fine."

However, Christmas Island shire council president Gordon Thomson told the ABC that the local hospital did not have the medical facilities necessary to deal with the issues refugees for which would require medical transfer, and that the facilities were "close" to what was on Manus and Nauru anyway.

He added that island locals with severe medical issues often had to go to the mainland, that Christmas Island was a six-bed hospital with just three doctors, and did not have "any capacity" to treat the extra refugees.

Abdul claimed there was essentially "no medical treatment" on the island when he was there.

"It's like Manus and Nauru, just a newer building. It's no different," he told 10 daily.

Asylum seekers at Phosphate Hill Detention Centre on Christmas Island in 2012.  (AAP Image/Allan Krepp)

10 daily can reveal that International Health and Medical Services, which provides health care for immigration detention centres in Australia, is already advertising for employees to work on Christmas Island through job websites like seek.com.au -- for positions including nurses, mental health staff and general practitioners.

Some of the job ads spruik conditions of the position as including "FIFO, Flights and Accommodation provided, Competitive Hourly Rates, Tropical Location."

One of the job ads posted online

Ali claimed detainees in Australia's onshore detention system were already worried that they could be sent off to Christmas Island.

"Everyone's stress level has gone up. We are fearing being sent to the island," he said.

"Everyone is worried."