15 Jan 2016

Kiwis being sent to Christmas Island again - detainee

9:28 am on 15 January 2016

Four New Zealanders are among 10 people who have been sent to Christmas Island from a detention centre on the Australian mainland, RNZ News has been told.

A fence at a detention centre on Christmas Island

Four New Zealanders have been sent to Christmas Island, RNZ has been told. Photo: AFP

According to one New Zealander, the Australian authorities plan to send people to the detention centre on the remote island once a week.

Vaelua Lagaaia, who is at the Villawood centre in western Sydney, said 10 people were rounded up and sent to Christmas Island on Wednesday.

He said the detainees were surprised because they thought transfers to Christmas Island had stopped after rioting there late last year.

"One of the well-respected detainees here, we saw them bringing him down here, so we actually asked him what was going on, and he said that he'd just been told that there were 10 going to Christmas Island and he was one of them."

Mr Lagaaia said nobody wanted to be sent to Christmas Island because it made it harder to access lawyers or have family visit.

Christmas Island achieved notoriety last year when riots broke out after an escaped inmate was found dead.

Conditions in the island's detention centre have been widely criticised and one former Australian insider said the way the prisoners were being kept made riots inevitable.

A supplied image shows damage following unrest at the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre. The photo was supplied on 11 November 2015 by the office of Australian MP Peter Dutton.

The riot caused major damage to the Christmas Island detention centre. Photo: AAP

Many inmates were moved from Christmas Island to detention centres on the Australian mainland following the riots.

Iwi n Aus founder Erina Anderson-Morunga said she had received messages saying the detainees being sent to Christmas Island were "harmless" and never bothered anyone.

"It actually outraged a lot of the older guys who were there, they really wanted to stand up and fight for them but they had to try and keep them all calm because they were crying and quite hysterical," she said.

"They know Christmas Island is a far-cry from what it's like on the mainland."

Ms Anderson-Morunga said huge lockdowns were still enforced there and detainees were not allowed to use their mobile phones.

"Mainland is tough, but Christmas Island is like a prisoner-of-war camp... it's so inhumane, they wouldn't wish [those conditions] on their worst enemies."

Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection would not confirm whether any New Zealanders had been sent to Christmas Island.

The [latest figures http://www.border.gov.au/ReportsandPublications/Documents/statistics/immigration-detention-statistics-30-dec-2015.pdf showed 183 New Zealanders remained in detention in Australia], but there is no data showing where those detainees were.

Daily struggle

In Villawood, Mr Lagaaia, who is facing deportation said he struggled to get the medicine he needed to manage his blood pressure and diabetes, which he developed after he moved to Australia in 1993, when he was 17.

"I think Australia [is] just trying to wash their hands of its responsibilities to New Zealand," he said.

"We're in the middle of Sydney not in the middle of some war-torn country. I thought jail was bad, but in this place they give you medication nearly at 10-o'clock at night and if you miss out, you miss out."

"I contacted the New Zealand Consulate about my medical issues and I'm still waiting to hear back from them."

RNZ News asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade why Mr Lagaaia had not heard back, but is yet to receive a response.

Mr Lagaaia said he had asked nurses, managers and Serco for help but everyone had "passed the buck".

He said he was worried about his health but was afraid to draw too much attention to himself.

"Everyone starts pointing fingers and I don't want to be the next person to go to Christmas Island."

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