Newest refugee base already ripe for protests

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Sarah Elks, North Queensland Correspondent From: The Australian

Refugee advocates warn that violent protests could erupt at the newest mainland immigration detention centre, the remote Scherger RAAF Base on Cape York, just as they have at Villawood and Christmas Island.

Hassan Ghulam, spokesman for the Australian Hazara Council, is in contact with several detainees inside the centre, located near the mining town of Weipa, 2400km north of Brisbane.

Many of the Afghani asylum-seekers are from the Hazara ethnic minority.

“I strongly believe the conditions inside Scherger are no different to Villawood,” Mr Ghulam said. “To some degree it’s more severe, because of the high humidity and heat.

“The fear of deportation from Scherger will be rising. I have no doubt that there will be similar activities.”

Mr Ghulam acknowledged he had not seen inside the base because the government had not approved his request to inspect the centre and meet Hazara detainees.
Scherger was originally designed to hold 300 single male asylum-seekers when it was opened by the federal government in October last year. The population has swelled to 558 and some are being housed in huge, air-conditioned army tents.

Earlier this month, a detainee told The Weekend Australian there were six tents with 36 sets of bunk beds in each. The Immigration Department maintains that the accommodation situation is “tight but manageable”.

The region is coming to the end of its long monsoon season, but the weather is still stiflingly hot and humid.

Hassan Varasi, a representative of another Hazara group based in South Australia and a regular correspondent with detainees, said it was not the conditions that were affecting the detainees the most.

“People are not too concerned about food and the facilities,” Mr Varasi — a former asylum-seeker who was detained in the Woomera immigration detention centre — said. “They don’t think about those things as much as they think about their futures.”

He said many detainees felt as if they were in limbo, waiting of the outcomes of their refugee applications. “Every one of these situations is made by time and the condition is developing to become violent in the future.”

Mr Varasi, who led peaceful protests among detainees inside Woomera, said the men felt helpless. “You have to do something to be heard,” he said.

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