Australia announced the closure of Melbourne’s controversial Maribyrnong detention center Wednesday, one of several facilities used to lock up immigrants who arrived without papers.
The government said the decision to close the much-criticized facility was “another milestone in the ramping-down of Australia’s onshore immigration detention network.”
Maribyrnong opened in the middle of the last century, but has recently been the site of hunger strikes and other protests over harsh treatment.
In 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission — a government body — reported guards at the facility used “more restrictive measures than necessary,” including the excessive use of restraints during escort.
The few remaining inmates have now been transferred to other facilities.
Immigration Minister David Coleman said successful policies had reduced the number of people held at Australia’s immigration detention centers from a peak of 10,000 in 2013 to just over a thousand today.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has wrapped up a three-day trip to the South Pacific to reassure vulnerable island nations that Canberra is serious about tackling climate change.
Morrison told Pacific Island leaders that Australia would meet its international obligations to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris climate change agreement.
Many low-lying communities fear that rising sea levels will force them from their homes. In Samoa, coastal villages are already making plans to relocate to higher ground in the nation’s volcanic interior.
Morrison’s three-day trip to Vanuatu and Fiji has been described by foreign policy experts as mostly a success.
Coal a sticking point
But climate change remains a source of friction between Australia and its smaller neighbors. Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama criticized Canberra for not doing more to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the economy’s reliance on coal. Australia has some of the world’s highest per capita rates of carbon pollution.
Australia is also eager to counter China’s growing strategic influence in the South Pacific, although Morrison insists all countries should work together.
“We are here because we are for the independent sovereignty and prosperity of Vanuatu because they are our Pacific neighbors and family. That is why we are here,” he said. “Our objectives and our motives here, I think, are very transparent to our family and friends here in the Pacific, particularly here in Vanuatu. This question is put to me all the time. I mean, we do not have to choose. We just have to work cooperatively together.”
Australia has also mended a previously fraught relationship with Fiji. Prime Minister Bainimarama is a former commander of the Fijian military who deposed an elected government in 2006. Democracy was restored to Fiji, an archipelago of about 900,000 people, in 2014.