Australia reopens Christmas Island migrant centre in anticipation of new arrivals | World News
Australia is to reopen a detention camp on Christmas Island after its parliament passed a new law which critics claim will encourage more asylum seekers to arrive by boat.
The legislation – described by prime minister Scott Morrison as “foolish” – gives sick migrants easier access to mainland hospitals.
Mr Morrison’s conservative government claims the bill, which was passed by 75 to 74 in the house of representatives on Tuesday, will undermine Australia’s tough refugee policy.
Asylum seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat are currently banished to camps on Pacific islands.
Immigration Minister David Coleman claimed the change would bring back a time when thousands of asylum seekers travelled to Indonesia and then paid smugglers to take them on to Australia by boat.
The Christmas Island centre – northwest of Australia and off the coast of Indonesia – was mothballed last year after being in operation for a decade.
Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra he had approved the reopening of the Christmas Island centre “both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers”.
The opposition Labor Party and independents voted to amend main legislation to give doctors the right to transfer migrants to the mainland if they need treatment.
One of the independents, Kerryn Phelps, said the new measure was “confined to the current cohort of people on Manus Island and Nauru”.
She added: “It does not provide any kind of attraction to people to leave where they are and to try to make the journey to Australia because they will not be considered as part of this legislation.”
But it is a blow to the government, which is trailing heavily in the polls ahead of an election in May.
Christmas Island is an external Australian territory despite sitting in the Indian Ocean around 960 miles north-west of the closest point on the Australian mainland.