Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, has ordered one of the most controversial detention centres in the country be reopened in an attempt to deal with the rising number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia.
The Curtin detention centre in Western Australia, which has been described as a “gulag”, will be renovated and reopened to house Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers who applications for Australian visas have been suspended.
The move by Mr Rudd, who has come under pressure to deal with a growing number of boat arrivals from Indonesia, has been strongly condemned by human rights groups.
Even Phillip Ruddock, who worked as immigration minister during the Howard government, said Curtin was the most remote and “primitive” facility used during the previous administration.
Richard Harding, Western Australia’s former inspector of custodial services, said the centre was like a “gulag” that should not be reopened.
Curtin was closed down in 2002 after one third of its 340 detainees were involved in riots, hunger strikes and self-harm.
The move comes as detention facilities on Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, reached breaking point. More than 1,800 asylum seekers have arrived on the Christmas Island in the past three months and the issue is becoming increasingly sensitive in the run up to elections, which must be called before December.
Mr Rudd is keen to appear to be toughening up his stance on asylum seekers.
Chris Evans, the immigration minister, said the Curtin centre would hold 200 to 300 single males. “I think it’s important to understand we’re already seeing an increase in refusal rates for asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka,” he said.
“People-smugglers are not able to assure people they will get a visa.”
Earlier this month, Mr Evans announced that all asylum claims from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka would be suspended for at least three months while the situation in both countries was reassessed.