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Australia's mandatory detention policy ablaze

Australia's mandatory detention policy ablaze, says refugee group

"Australia's much criticised policy of mandatory detention that violates international human rights conventions has gone up in smoke this week", says Jack H. Smit of refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom Inc.

This week has seen several fires at the Baxter detention centre, the Woomera detention centre, the Port Hedland facility, trouble in the Perth detention centre, a fire lit at the Christmas Island centre, and also at Villawood on New Year's Eve.

The West Australian country-based refugee advocacy group calls for immediate community release of all detained asylum seekers, currently living in the burnt-out shells of remote and isolated detention centres after this week's fires. "It would be foolish to rebuild the burned out detention centries in denial of the failure of the mandatory detention policy", Mr Smit commented.

In response to this week's events, Mr Smit urged the Howard government to act courageously for once, announce a New Year's resolution, and close the remnants of the outback centres, releasing people into the community, and provide access to all welfare facilities in addition to trauma counselling services.

"We need an immediate action plan to house asylum seekers in humane environments, also for those who did not meet the UN requirements and who cannot be safely returned to their country of origin," says Mr Smit, who lives in Narrogin.

"Western Australia is the largest State-bound landmass on planet earth, and we have 'boundless plains to share'," said Mr Smit, who coordinates an association promoting a community farm-based alternative to detention.

"If China knows the meaning of the term "amnesty", if Saddam Hussein can do it, then Australia can do it too - and we should enact this Christmas and New Year's tradition much more generously than any other western country so we can heal some of the psychological damage Australia has inflicted upon asylum seekers."

"In the Netherlands asylum seekers are accepted for further consolidation of their visas within 48 hours. Every day the Howard government digs in its heels about the intolerable situation in our country, it aggravates both its ongoing guilt towards these human beings, and its standing in the international community."

Mr Smit further said: "The government has had one year to practice its Fortress Australia policy. It has cost billions of dollars, with the government spending 3800 times more on its socalled "border protection" than on its contributions to the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR."

"The policy, because it is not based on good care for human beings, but on xenophobia, isolation and incarceration, is bankrupt, and we need an immediate change of direction before Australia's Treasury becomes bankrupt as well."

"Community release, even with all the associated costs of medical and social provisions, costs a fraction of what the government is spending. It also halts the staggering human cost, currently inflicted upon human beings who have committed no crime."

"Within this context, this week's shortsighted media reactions from acting Immigration Minister Daryl Williams as well as some State Premiers, who just want to blame detainees and deport them, is another boring example of the broken record of Australia's divisive policies", Mr Smit said.

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