There is more freedom and better conditions for detainees at the new $500 million immigration detention centre on Christmas Island but also more isolation, says an ACBC spokesman who has visited the remote Indian Ocean site.
The director of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference's Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office Monsignor John Murphy told The Catholic Leader that detainees within the facility would have a greater degree of freedom than at the existing centre.
However, the new facility will be much more isolated than the current one.
As well as gathering first hand information for the ACBC on the situation of detainees on the island, Msgr Murphy joined the local community for Holy Week and Easter celebrations. About 100 of Christmas Island's 1,200 or so inhabitants are Catholics.
The island is part of Perth archdiocese. Christmas Island, an Australian territory, is 2,600km north-west of Perth. Its closest neighbour is Java, 360km away.
The Howard Government was estimated to have spent nearly $500 million on resourcing and building the new high-tech facility.
Msgr Murphy, who first visited the facility last year, said it was more or less complete, but there was still some fine-tuning to be done before it was handed over to the immigration department.
"I would have to say that the authorities have done everything to make things comfortable," he said. "Detainees once inside are freer to move around than before. They will have access cards so they can get into sections such as the medical centre without presence of guards.
"However, one negative is that the centre is located at the far north-eastern end of the island, much more isolated from the population than the current facility."
There are six detainees on the island, Msgr Murphy said.
"An Indonesian couple and their two children live in community housing due to rules now that children can't be kept in detention centres," he said.
"There are also two Vietnamese brothers, Catholics, who were taken to a detention centre at Perth airport for medical checks just before I arrived. “
"I have been in contact with the federal immigration department and the minister to resolve the issue of these two brothers one way or the other."
Msgr Murphy said the local community had been good to the detainees. One of the island's Catholics has been given permission to take the brothers to the weekly communion service.
Detention centre a mixed bag (Catholic Leader, 20/4/08)
Christmas Island Detention Centre (Department of Immigration and Citizenship)
Christmas Island Detention Centre (Youtube)