Australia announces reopening of offshore detention centre

Australia will reopen a controversial detention centre for asylum seekers, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after an embarrassing defeat in parliament that allows migrants in offshore camps to receive medical care in the country.
Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison approved the reopening of the remote facility - closed just months ago - claiming new laws passed by parliament would increase the number of people trying to arrive to Australia illegally.
Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison approved the reopening of the remote facility - closed just months ago - claiming new laws passed by parliament would increase the number of people trying to arrive to Australia illegally.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CANBERRA (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday (Feb 13) announced the reopening of a controversial offshore migrant detention centre on Christmas Island, doubling down on hardline policies in the face of an historic legislative defeat.

Mr Morrison approved the reopening of the remote facility - closed just months ago - claiming new laws passed by Parliament would increase the number of people trying to arrive to Australia illegally.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Parliament rebuffed government warnings and passed legislation that allows refugees and asylum-seekers detained on existing offshore centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island to travel to Australia for medical treatment.

It was the first time in decades that an Australian government has lost a vote on its own legislation in the House of Representatives.

Mr Morrison accused the opposition of a bid to "weaken and compromise our borders" and said he was adopting "100 per cent" of a series of recommendations from the country's security services to further tighten efforts to prevent the arrival of migrants and asylum-seekers by sea.

He declined to specify what those classified measures were, other than to announce the reopening of the camp on Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory some 2,300km north-west of the western city of Perth.

His decision comes as both parties gear up for a bitter campaign ahead of a general election due in May and amid fierce debate over the conservative government's harsh immigration policies.

 
 

Those policies have seen thousands of asylum-seekers languish for years on Manus and Nauru under conditions widely condemned by the United Nations and human rights organisation.

In the wake of the parliamentary setback, Mr Morrison refused calls to step down or call an early election, insisting that Australians would have time to make their choice in May.

His Liberal Party is keen to deliver a surplus budget before the election, with opinion polls showing the opposition Labor Party in a dominant position, to underpin its claim to be the best custodians of Australia's finances.

The facility on Christmas Island, which sits in the Indian Ocean to the south of the Indonesian island of Java, once held thousands of people.

The last 35 detainees were taken off the island last October, when the camp was shuttered.