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Mothers and infants behind detention centre bars – smh

[MISC, Thursday, 19 November 2009 13:51 No Comment]

The women and children from the Oceanic Viking, now being held behind bars in an Australian-funded Indonesian immigration centre, have described their conditions in detention as "like jail", and have pleaded for help.

Despite assurances from the Rudd Government that the five women and five children among the group of 78 asylum seekers would not be housed in detention, and would be able to come and go as they please, they have been moved into a locked room in Tanjung Pinang’s old detention centre. This is next door to the new facility which is housing the 68 men from the ship.

The youngest child is less than one year old.

The Herald spoke to the women and children at the window of their cell yesterday.

"Help me," one mother carrying an infant begged from the window of her cell, "the children want to go out and play".

"We want to play, we want to play," a toddler called. "Australia, Australia."

An older woman said she had expected to be allowed outside as part of detention conditions.

But she said her group still wished to continue on the journey they began by sea more than a month ago. "We want to go Australia," she said, before the conversation was cut short by an immigration official.

The women and children’s building, which usually houses overstayers or people charged with immigration offences, has bars across all the windows. The barred metal door to their room is kept shut with a heavy padlock.

A sign on the door reads, in English and Indonesian, ”Tanjung Pinang Detention Centre, Temporary Holding Room”. Only the men’s complex is behind razor wire.

Guards have said that the two buildings are identical inside, with long rows of bunks lining large rooms. Both were refurbished at the same time, financed by Australia, last year.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said the accommodation of asylum seekers in Indonesia was a matter for the Indonesian Government.

”Women and children are being accommodated in an adjacent Immigrasi [Indonesian Immigration Department] building which is separate to the detention centre,” he said. ”We are advised that there are suitable sleeping, ablution and dining facilities and it has previously been used to house people.”

They had been processed in a visitors’ area of the detention centre on Wednesday night and would have ”free access” to the detention centre to visit partners, he said.

Before the last of the asylum seekers left the Oceanic Viking on Wednesday, Kevin Rudd said that arrangements had been made to house the women and children in a "separate facility" near the detention centre.

Indonesia’s Director of Diplomatic Security, Dr Sujatmiko, said the request to house women and children separately was a condition insisted upon by Australia.

For the fourth straight day, the Prime Minister denied the asylum seekers were given special treatment.

The Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, said Mr Rudd’s stance was beyond belief. He moved to censure the Prime Minister, saying he had obfuscated the truth behind a ”wall of spin” and weakened Australia’s borders through poor policy.

”We have seen the most extraordinary spectacle of a prime minister standing up, looking the Australian people in the eye and unblinkingly saying black is white,” Mr Turnbull said.

”Here is a situation where obviously a special deal was done in order to entice the asylum seekers off the Oceanic Viking.”

[Full Coverage]

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