Detaining asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru has cost Australian taxpayers around $1.22 billion in the last financial year.
According to information given during a Senate Estimates hearing on Monday, the Federal Government spent $632.3 million on the Manus Island (PNG) detention centre, and $582.4 million to maintain operations in Nauru.
The funds were used to cover the costs of staff and paying both PNG and Nauru to support the centres, as well as transporting detainees to and from the processing centres, and providing them with health services.
Deputy Secretary of Immigration, Mark Cormack defended the costs, saying that “Stopping boats is saving lives and saving billions of dollars.” He claimed that the cost of detention centres has, in fact, dropped over the last calendar year.
The estimates hearing found that whereas 20,711 asylum seekers arrived in Australia in the previous year, this calendar year has seen only 164 arrivals. This equates to a saving of $2.5 billion, and is part of a scheme by the federal government, which aims to reduce the number of onshore detention centres from 25 to 15.
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Thousands of people seeking asylum from the oppression or unrest in their own countries arrive on Australia’s shores, only to be remanded in detention centres for interminable amounts of time.
We know from the limited but ominous news reports that are leaked to us, that people are suffering inside our detention centres. They suffer from unsafe, unclean living conditions, which make them unwell. They suffer from minor medical conditions, such as mosquito bites, which when left untreated, become infected. They suffer from emotional and mental illnesses from being locked up. And we know they suffer shockingly at the hands of those who are hired to care for them, from direct and indirect actions.
Let’s not forget the Iranian asylum seeker, Hamid Kehazaei, who died in September from septicaemia after cutting his foot on Manus Island. This 24 year old man would still be alive if he’d been given the necessary basic and early medical treatment. And though other similar reports have been exposed, we can really only guess how many asylum seekers are experiencing similar, devastating predicaments as Hamid. The mental, physical and emotional effects of these experiences must surely worsen the longer a person is incarcerated.
The federal government is so worried about money, about locking people up, and pushing refuge-seeking boats away from our shores with the tip of its boot, that it fails to remember that there are human lives aboard.
I don’t know if $1.22 billion is enough, or too much to spend on those you’ve forced into captivity. But surely these asylum seekers deserve more than simply representing a $1.22 billion dollar burden to Australian taxpayers.
What do you think? Do you believe that we are helping asylum seekers by denying them entry to Australia? Is it right for Australia to detain people for an interminable amount of time while we work out what to do with them? Should taxpayers’ money be used to help detain asylum seekers?