AUSTRALIA is building imposing double-storey dormitories to hold detained asylum-seekers on Nauru, setting in concrete Labor’s version of the Pacific Solution.
The new Nauru twin-storey accommodation centre for detainees contains 44 rooms grouped in three pods but has no airconditioning. Picture: Supplied Source: The Australian
The Weekend Australian has gained exclusive insight into what life will be like in the permanent camp at Topside, on the equatorial island’s baking central plateau, as the initial group of 88 detainees prepares to move out of tents and into the new blocks.
Australian and local workmen were swarming over them yesterday to complete the finishing touches in time for a planned handover next week.
The initial stage of the project is a twin-storey accommodation centre of about 1000sq m, containing 44 rooms grouped in three pods, connected by covered breezeways.
For now, asylum-seekers will sleep two to a room of 4m x 3.5m. The centre is the first of 10 planned accommodation blocks in a camp that will cost more than $70 million to build and hold up to 1500 detainees.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has said detainees can expect to spend as much as five years on the island under the government’s “no-advantage” rule, to ensure that asylum-seekers who take to boats do not receive a short cut compared with those who go through proper channels.
Rain was falling yesterday — as it has been for weeks on Nauru, in the grip of its wet season — and the 415 male detainees from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iran were getting by under canvas. Separate buildings for kitchen, canteen and administration staff are also to be built, with the project to be completed by year’s end.
While a vast improvement on existing conditions, where people sleep up to 12 to a tent and shower in the converted Howard-era huts, the permanent camp at Topside will lack amenities taken for granted by the inmates of most Australian jails.
There is no airconditioning to keep at bay the 30C-plus heat and heavy humidity, a comfort detainees had in Mark 1 of the Pacific Solution.
Each room will have a single wall-mounted fan. The windows are grilled, but otherwise open to trap sea breezes. Eaves are designed to keep out the rain.
“It’s a bit like the old Northern Territory-style home where you get the air to flow through the whole building,” said Rory Murphy, boss of Brisbane-based civil engineers contractor Canstruct, which secured a three-stage tender for the $70m contract.
“The building is orientated to be as cool as possible naturally.”
The rooms will not have cooking facilities or a sink, let alone the ensuite that is virtually standard in modern Australian prison cells.
There is no TV or computer point. The 88 detainees moving into Block 1 will share nine common shower stalls and nine toilets.
To date, only men have been sent to Nauru and it is not clear whether provision will be made for women or families with children who currently go to the detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The rooms and wet areas of the new block at Topside are finished with vinyl floor covering. Mr Murphy said furnishings and the number of people to a room were matters “for the Immigration Department”.
The department yesterday would not comment on what it described as operational matters, including how detainees would be selected to go into the new building. Constructing it has been quite a feat. Work began only on December 18 and continued through Christmas and the holidays.
The foundations were poured in concrete, but the floors, wall and roof units were prefabricated at Canstruct’s Force 10 factory at Crestmead, in Brisbane’s south, and took 14 days to be shipped to Nauru. A port is among the many things lacking on the impoverished island state. So a causeway of rock and gravel was constructed to land the materiel and heavy equipment. It had to be repaired daily at low tide.
The complications didn’t end there. There was no way to hook up power, mains water and sewerage to Topside, which sits in a rocky phosphate mining field. All have had to be put in, including underground cabling for the electricity, which is generated on site.
“Basically, we are self-sufficient,” Mr Murphy said of an operation that drew on the company’s experience of building homes for Aborigines in remote areas of Queensland and Western Australia. “That was part of the deal and it was a real challenge.”
Completion of stage one opens the way for detainees to be given greater freedom. They are already allowed to leave the camp on escorted excursions and to compete in soccer and athletics against local teams. But a spokesman for the Nauruan government said the intention was for the camp to be open during the day, allowing detainees to come and go freely before an evening curfew.
Currently, it is guarded by contract staff from Wilsons Security, under the $24.5m deal with the Transfield group to run the camp. Other contracts totalling $2.07m have been let by the Immigration Department for staff accommodation and meeting facilities at the local Menen Hotel and for telecommunications. An Immigration spokesman said the camp had been generally trouble-free since tensions last November and December sparked a hunger strike and reports of fights among the asylum-seekers.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING: LAUREN WILSON
All Pictures: Supplied Source: The Australian