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Christmas Island - People

Christmas Island is a multi-lingual community. Christmas Island has a resident population of approximately 2100 with an ethnic composition of approximately 60 per cent Chinese, 25 per cent Malay and 15 per cent European [CIA gives teh composition as approximately 70 per cent Chinese, 10 per cent Malay and 20 per cent European]. At the time of the visit of H.M.S. "Egcria" (Captain Aldrich), in 1887, the island was found to be entirely uninhabited, and there was no indication that it hud ever been occupied.

The Malay community are Muslim, praying at the Mosque in Kampong at Flying Fish Cove. Members of the Chinese community follow a variety of religious beliefs including Buddhism, Christianity and Confucianism. There are a number of temples, shrines and Christian churches around the island.

In addition to the usual Australian public holidays, cultural events include the Muslim festivals Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji. There are a host of Chinese celebrations including Chinese New Year, the Hungry Ghost Festival (held on the 14th day of the seventh lunar month to appease the hungry ghosts that are unleashed from hell), and the Mooncake Festival, held on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar when the moon is at its brightest. The birthdays of Chinese temple gods are also celebrated at the respective temples around the island.

While previously best known as an entry point to Australia for refugees, Christmas Island has both a strange history and unique culture that is slowing becoming more recognised. Reflecting a history that aligns well with its distinct biodiversity, the ethnic makeup of CI are today mainly Chinese, although are not descended from the Island’s first miners. These residents are followed closely by Australians, Europeans, and Malay, whose presences in the community contribute to the collective culture that now exists. As such, the small community of Christmas Island is one that is both remarkably tolerant and humble: there can’t be many other places in the world with two public holidays per year, celebrating both Christian and Muslim holy days, and two for Chinese festivals.

The Shire of Christmas Island has been operating since 1 July 1992. It was created as a result of the law reform process whereby the Commonwealth decided to apply the laws of Western Australia as Territory laws. The Christmas Island Services Corporation, a Commonwealth organisation, became the local government on this date. The Shire provides standard local government type services as well as acts as agent for the Commonwealth in the provision of some services.

The Australian Government contracts the provision of educational services on Christmas Island to the Western Australian Department of Education. The modern well-equipped District High School caters for students from pre-primary to Year 12 operating within the Western Australia curriculum. The curriculum is innovative and tailored to the individual learning needs of the students. A particular focus is given to the needs of English as a Second Language students and to studies of Malay and Mandarin. Students also have the opportunity to undertake Structured Workplace Learning programs with local services and business.

The Indian Ocean Territories Health Service (IOTHS) provides a comprehensive range of medical, nursing and ancillary health service from the Christmas Island hospital. Like many other remote locations on the mainland, specialist services are not always available on Christmas Island. Health specialists visit Christmas Island to provide services in orthopaedics, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, ear nose and throat, opthalmology, radiology and women's health. If a person needs medical attention which cannot be provided locally, appointments may be arranged for residents to travel to Perth as required.

Australia is the only country in the world with mandatory indefinite detention for asylum seekers who arrive without permission. They are locked away in camps around the country and kept there, sometimes for years, until their cases are heard. At the end of this process, 85-90% are accepted.

Australia is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention (1951), and in December 1990 ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Since 1992, Australia has had a policy of mandatory indefinite detention of all children and adults arriving by boat without valid documentation. This has been extended to include offshore processing and changes to the migration zone.

Under Australian law and policy, boats carrying asylum seekers trying to enter Australian territory may be turned back at sea, and people who do arrive without a visa are categorized as “unauthorised maritime arrivals” and transported to “regional processing countries.” The goals of Australia’s asylum seeker policies include border security and deterring the actions of smugglers who transport people by boat from transit countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, often in unsafe situations that have resulted in numerous deaths at sea.

Unauthorized arrivals seeking asylum are processed at the Christmas Island Detention Center, located off the country’s northwest coast. Following health, identity, and security checks, unauthorized arrivals are to remain in immigration detention while their applications are being processed only if it is determined that they pose a threat to the community. However, the number of asylum seekers arriving by sea has increased dramatically in recent years, putting pressure on the detention center capacity at Christmas Island as well as on processing times. There were 4,940 such arrivals recorded in the 2010-11 fiscal year, compared with 25 in 2007-08.

Families were held in indefinite detention on CI with the threat of transfer to Manus or Nauru or resettlement in third countries. Despite their designation as Alternative Places of Detention (APOD), the camps that housed families and unaccompanied minors resembled prisons. They were harsh and cramped, surrounded by high double fences—some of which were electrified—and guards were stationed at security gates. The ground was hard and stony, there was no grass, limited shade, and white phosphate dust covered everything. Families slept in small cabins with limited privacy, some shared bathrooms. There was little for anyone to do. In March, June, and July 2011, there were riots at the Christmas Island Detention Center.

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Page last modified: 26-07-2017 19:17:10 ZULU