New detention camp no holiday
Former army barracks on outskirts of Northam has electric fences and scale-proof walls. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

Capacity at the new Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre has been more than halved from 1500 to 600, partly because of local concerns.

But when the facility for asylum seekers opens in rural Northam in a week or so, the local community will be encouraged to adopt the all-male detainees as their own.

Through visits to the detention centre by curious residents, sporting events between detainees and local clubs, or tours of the picturesque Wheatbelt town by the refugees, community interaction will help prepare them for life in a new country, according to the Immigration Department.

But it will be no holiday camp.

“Frankly, it’s a detention centre - it’s not a holiday resort,“ Immigration Department regional manager of detention (WA) Bruce Needham said during a media visit today.

“But nor is it a prison, so we think we’ve got a suitable blend between reasonable accommodation and activities programs while maintaining the security of the facility.”

There are prisons less intimidating than the $125 million former army barracks on the outskirts of Northam with its electric fences and scale-proof walls.

Security was one of the main briefs for the design, according to Immigration Department spokesman Sandi Logan.

“The Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre is probably one of the most secure facilities in the entire network,” Mr Logan said.

“We want to ensure that the community is confident in the security arrangements here.”

At the same time, he said, the Federal Government did not want to institutionalise those who would later become members of the community.

“We encourage them to be self-sufficient and routine in preparation for their outside life,” Mr Logan said.

“These are important measures of de-institutionalising the behaviour of people ... by giving them the best opportunity for living skills so they can integrate.

“It’s all part of keeping them engaged to prevent them from falling into a depressed state while waiting to be released.”

It could well be depressing: there are cameras, security gates and bars on most windows, and the centre will be run by multinational security firm Serco, which manages some of the State’s prisons.

Sleeping quarters are spare, with two men sharing a 2.5m x 2.5m room with bunk beds and a toilet, but there is also a well-appointed kitchen, library, internet room, vegetable garden and medical facilities.

The 10-hectare site has two scaled-down soccer pitches, basketball courts, a gym and volleyball nets.

The Immigration Department envisages detainees forming their own sporting teams and playing against local Northam clubs, hoping locals will warm to the idea.

“We welcome the community coming in and having a look and being involved,” Mr Logan said.

The centre will cater for male detainees only - mainly from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka - who will be shipped in from other facilities, including Christmas Island, “in the coming days or weeks”.

The department won’t say exactly when.

While it will cater for 600, it has a “surge capacity” to cope with additional asylum seeker arrivals


The West Australian

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