The attempted escape took place at a facility where many asylum seekers have been held for over 5 years and some indefinitely.
An unfinished 20-metre-long escape tunnel was discovered at an immigration detention centre in Australia on Monday, highlighting the plight of asylum seekers held as long-term detainees in the country.
The tunnel that the guards discovered was only dug three metres deep under drawers in one of the rooms in the Falcon compound of Yongah Hill detention centre, created through the use of makeshift tools including utensils, parts of a fridge and a wooden drawer.
The footage released shows the hole was only big enough to take one person at a time.
But the unfinished attempt was still quite advanced, and it had already passed the two inner fences, according to Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition, who first revealed the presence of the tunnel.
"Another five metres would have got them beyond the outer perimeter fence,” he told ABC News.
In return, “all detainees have been accounted for and remain in detention," ABC reported a spokesperson for the Australian Border Force saying.
Asylum seekers as long-term detainees
For refugee advocates, it highlights the prolonged detention of asylum seekers in the detention facility where 320 people are held.
According to Border Force statistics, 140 of those are asylum seekers and 180 of them are non-citizens whose visas were cancelled because the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (‘DIAC’) wasn’t convinced of their ‘good character.’
While the cancellation of a visa on character grounds can indicate a criminal record, it can also mean that the asylum seeker is seen as a potential of a crime that they have never committed. An unknown period of detention is among the consequences.
If the cancellation decision is made by an immigration minister, there is almost no way to challenge it before a tribunal or a court.
Around 600 days is the average period of time for such detentions, the statistics say. But in Yongah Hill, many asylum seekers are held for over five years, thought some spend over nine years incarcerated. Others face indefinite detention.
Refugee Action Council says “the systematic abuse of long-term detention is hidden behind the fences of Australia’s detention regime.”
“With almost none of the oversight that applies to prisoners of the judicial system, asylum seekers are systematically being deprived of their liberty and mental health,” Rintoul, the spokesperson of the advocacy group, said in a statement.
“Inside the detention centres, Serco, and Border Force are a law unto themselves,” he said. Serco is a company that helps run immigration detention sites for the federal government.
The group says these detentions are human rights abuses and amount to real crime. Among those detained, there are some Iranian asylum seekers who can’t go back to their home countries and are detained with no hope of release.
“Indefinite detention is pointless and destructive. Visa cancellation powers allow asylum seekers and refugees to be punished twice, first by the judicial system and then by immigration detention,” Rintoul said.
This is not the first time asylum seekers have attempted to escape by digging tunnels. Around 20 years ago, 23 managed to escape the Villawood detention centre in Sydney via a tunnel.
In 2012, about 40 refugees also fled during a protest, and in 2018, an Iranian Asylum seeker escaped the Christmas Island detention centre by scaling fences.
In Yongah Hill, detainees previously held a hunger strike in 2019 in an attempt to get the media’s attention.