Asylum seekers: it’s ‘no holiday’


May 12, 2010

The Virginia Palms Motel in Boondall.

Asylum seekers may be living in the comfort of a four-star motel on Brisbane’s northside, but they are “canaries in a golden cage”, a refugee advocate says.

Frederika Steen said 79 asylum seekers housed in the Virginia Palms Motel live as detainees not holidaymakers.

“Anyone who is being detained and waiting for a decision, no matter how well they are fed, how warm they are at night, or how safe they feel, are unwell because of their lack of freedom,” Ms Steen said.

The four-star Virginia Palms Motel in Boondall has reportedly been awarded a $1.2 million government contact for at least six months to accommodate the group of asylum seekers, understood to be from Afghanistan.

The Virginia Palms Motel boasts “luxurious accommodation” in brand-new self-contained apartments surrounded by 10 acres of lush, tropic gardens.

But Ms Steen likened the asylum seekers to “canaries in a golden cage” suffering severe mental anguish.

“The detainees may be physically well looked after, but they are locked up,” she said.

“They are deprived of their liberty. No matter how good their accommodation [is] they would sooner live in a hut with a dirt floor and be free.”

She said time in detention scarred refugees long after their release.

“We still have people in our community here who cannot sleep at night and who have permanent mental ill health as a result of firstly their detention and secondly their years on the temporary visa separated from their families,” Ms Steen said.

The federal Department of Immigration would not confirm details of the contract with the motel yesterday, describing the matter as commercial in confidence.

According to the department, the four-star motel was chosen to house the asylum seekers because it was “readily available”.

The government said the motel, located 13 kilometres from Brisbane Airport, was the only appropriate means of housing vulnerable women and children outside a detention centre.

The asylum seekers were transferred from Christmas Island to the motel because Brisbane’s Immigration Transit Centre at Pinkenba, which currently houses 51 detainees in family groups, has been full since March.

But Family First senator Steve Fielding yesterday said the move would only encourage more unauthorised boat arrivals.

“First it was Hotel Christmas Island, now it’s Hotel Queensland,” Mr Fielding said.

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said Queensland taxpayers should be far more concerned about money thrown at Christmas Island and Indonesia detention centres.

“People should be far more concerned about the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being put into Christmas Island, when people could be accommodated far more cheaply on the mainland in motels,” Mr Rintoul said.

“It is mean-spirited for people to say that somehow we should find the absolute bottom of the range accommodation for people who have asked for protection in Australia.”

The practice of housing asylum seekers was introduced by the Howard government.

“This is a practice that has been around over successive governments over many, many, many years,” Department of Immigration spokesman Sandy Logan told ABC Radio yesterday.

“The migration act has always provided certainly in the last 10 years, for where there is a requirement for alternative places of detention, to be assigned when a detention centre is not suitable for the client particular requirements.”

Mr Logan said the asylum seekers occupied an entire wing of the motel. He said the government had no plans to employ more motels to house asylum seekers.

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