SOME of the families in detention on Christmas Island spent almost two months in hotel accommodation in Indonesia before travelling to a small island for a three-day boat trip to the tiny Australian territory.
A little girl from the group, whose wooden boat eluded a Customs patrol vessel to dock at Christmas Island's main jetty, yesterday took her first steps outside the gates of the island's guarded and gated family accommodation complex since she arrived with her parents before dawn on April 8.
The 15m boat that brought them here is less than five years old and more seaworthy than most used by asylum seekers in recent years, but it was narrow enough to cause seasickness. It had one Indonesian crew member. The group's belongings, including clothes and toiletries, were drenched by seawater and rain during the journey. Some in the group of 38, mostly Iraqis and including seven children, have since told how the boat's diesel engine stopped during the journey, reducing the women and children to tears. Ten single males from the boat are being kept at the island's $400million Immigration Detention Centre.
Accompanied by adults and an immigration official, the girl went only a few metres to and from a makeshift office of the commonwealth department that will decide whether her family's asylum claim is valid. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship takes asylum seekers through a series of basic questions, including "Why did you come here?" It is during this processing stage, which can take up to two months, that the girl and the rest of the group will be kept under guard and behind fences, separate from the community and asylum seekers who arrived earlier.
The questioning and checks will continue today for the April 8 boatload as 16 men and boys from Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan receive permanent visas and are jetted off Christmas Island for new lives in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. [Just what we need: More arrogant Muslims to hate us] They include four men and four adolescent boys on board a boatload of 35 asylum seekers intercepted on December 2 last year on Ashmore Reef, 320km from the Kimberley coast. The adolescents have been attending school on Christmas Island, and living in the community with paid guardians from the organisation Life Without Borders. The other eight to receive permanent protection visas today are men whose boat was intercepted 12 nautical miles off Ashmore Reef on January 19.
A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said each of the 16 had been provided with resettlement support, and foster care arrangements had been made for the four adolescents. Of the 455 unauthorised arrivals, including crew members, since last September, 131 have been granted visas.
Refugee lawyer David Mann said people should not make judgments about the unusual group of asylum seekers who docked at Christmas Island last Wednesday simply because they were well-dressed or brought personal belongings. [One should not suspect that they are economic migrants rather than genuine regugees??]
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