Australia to build new asylum centres

Sri Lankan asylum-seekers on board their boat stopped by Indonesian authorities on their way to Australia (2009)
Image caption An increase in the number of asylum seekers has put pressure on Australia's existing facilities

The Australian government has unveiled plans for two more detention centres to accommodate an increasing number of asylum seekers.

It also announced that children and family groups would be moved from detention into community-based accommodation.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it was not the Australian way to have children behind razor wire.

The new detention centres in Perth and Adelaide will house 2,000 people.

Asylum and immigration issues were focal points in Australia's recent election campaign.

The country's policy of mandatory detention for all migrants without papers while their asylum applications are processed has been criticised by the United Nations.

Child care

Ms Gillard said "significant numbers" of minors and families would be moved into community-based accommodation as part of a more "humane" approach to the issue.

"This is especially important for children, for whom protracted detention can have negative impacts on their development and mental health," Ms Gillard said.

"I don't think it is the Australian way to have kids behind razor wire in the hope that that is a deterrent," she added.

She said several hundred families would be moved by the middle of next year.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said that while the country needed to maintain one of the toughest asylum policies in the world, improvements could be made to the treatment of asylum seekers.

"Children will be able to, and obliged to, attend school normally and to live a normal life," he said.

The government is in talks with East Timor and Indonesia about a plan to build a regional processing centre for asylum seekers.

Earlier conservative governments has instituted the so-called "Pacific solution" under which asylum seekers were detained on the Pacific island of Nauru while their claims were processed.

Mr Bowen said the best deterrent would be a rigorous system of checks on whether applicants fulfilled conditions to be granted refugee status.

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