“The cohort being transferred consists of those who have been convicted of crimes involving assault, sexual offences, drugs and other violent offences. This cohort is detained because of their risk to the Australian community.”
In February, the facility at North West Point, was used as a quarantine facility for Australian citizens evacuated from Wuhan in China.
“The ABF is working closely with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communication and Western Australian authorities to implement quarantine requirements where appropriate for service providers and ABF staff deploying to Christmas Island,” it said.
The high-security detention centre has been closed since February, except for a Tamil family, but a decision this week could mean detainees from other parts of the country would be sent there to manage coronavirus outbreaks and pressure on other facilities.
But the Human Rights Law Centre said Christmas Island was a “dangerous and inhumane response to rising COVID-19 risk in immigration detention”.
In a statement, the activist group said medical experts had called for the release of detainees to protect against a widespread outbreak.
“[Home Affairs Minister Peter] Dutton could today release the women and men held unnecessarily in immigration detention centres into housing in the community where they can socially distance,” the centre’s legal director David Burke said.
“By reopening detention facilities on a remote island, thousands of kilometres from specialist medical care, Minister Dutton has chosen a dangerous and cruel response to a public health crisis.”
Amnesty International said the move showed a complete disregard for the physical and mental health needs of refugees, brought to Australia for treatment, after having been locked up for years simply for coming to Australia seeking safety.
“Community detention is by far the safest option,” Amnesty International refugee coordinator Graham Thom said.
“The Australian Government has in the past allowed almost 900 refugees into the community after being medically evacuated to Australia, prior to the Medevac Bill being passed.
“There is no reason why this solution shouldn’t also be an option for these refugees.”
A “travel bubble” established between Christmas Island and Western Australia would mean staff could travel to the island without need to quarantine.
Christmas Island is closer to the Indonesian island of Java than mainland Australia, about a three-and-a-half-hour flight from Perth.
The detention centre first opened in 2008 and reached its peak capacity in 2010 when the then Labor government was inundated with boat arrivals and 2400 people were interred.
Nathan is WAtoday’s political reporter and the winner of the 2019 Arthur Lovekin Prize for Excellence in Journalism.
Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.