Anger at another Serco escape

Angry Northam residents say they do not feel safe after another escape from the Serco-staffed Yongah Hill immigration detention centre yesterday.

Four detainees broke out, sparking a big manhunt and calls for the "unscalable" perimeter fence to be upgraded.

Three were soon captured after climbing at least three fences about 3pm. The other man was found later.

It was the fourth breakout since August and two of the 14 escapees are still on the run.

In a statement through a spokesman, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison expressed strong dissatisfaction at the performance of the Yongah Hill centre.

He had asked the department to review detainee placements there to ensure those at a higher risk of absconding were in more secure facilities.

Northam Shire president Steven Pollard said the escapes proved people could climb the fences "relatively easily".

It seemed the fences could be scaled in a minute or less, which made it difficult for Serco staff to respond fast enough.

Mr Pollard said the main perimeter fence was meant to be "unscalable", which meant it had no hand holds or attachment points and the top leant inwards.

"You have to be fairly strong and nimble to get up and over that final fence, let alone the first two fences as well," he said.

"It seems a little too easy and we are not happy with the fact it is not as secure as it appears to be."

Long-term Northam resident Alana said she no longer felt safe in the town.

"We were assured, assured and reassured that escapes wouldn't happen," she said. "This is the fourth time. That's outrageous.

"They may as well put them in a paddock.

"Given I am a single mum of two daughters, it worries me.

"They say most of them might be harmless but how are we supposed to know if they are criminals or not?"

Her daughter, 15, who did not want to be named, said night and bush activities at her cadet club were restricted because they were so close to the centre.

"We're restricted to one side of the barracks," she said.

But Commercial Hotel-Motel owner Bob Cramer said the centre was the best thing to happen to Northam as its biggest employer and was critical to the local economy.

"The detainees don't represent any threat," he said. "They're just migrants, not criminals.

"They don't represent any harm at all. I wouldn't care if 30 of them got out. What are they going to do around here?"

United Voice union assistant secretary Kelly Shay said yesterday's escape was another failing by Serco.

"We know that Yongah Hill detention centre is chronically understaffed and incidences like this are happening because of Serco shortcuts," he said.

"They are trying to run the detention centre with 28 staff when 35 are required and it leads to escapes like the one today and last week.

"They are putting the lives of detainees and staff at risk and United Voice members have had enough."

The union's members at the centre endorsed a ballot for protected industrial action this week as negotiations with Serco for better pay and conditions stalled.

Police Operations Centre inspector David Picton-King said the fourth escapee was found in bush 600m from the centre about 7pm. About 15 officers, the air wing and a tracking dog were involved.


The West Australian

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