"Worse than prison." Australian evacuees on the real conditions on Christmas Island.


Feature image: Twitter @billbirtles/Gloria Zeng and AAP.

It’s taken a group of Australian citizens potentially infected with coronavirus for much of the country to wake up to something refugee advocates have been shouting about for years: the abysmal living conditions on Christmas Island.

For those who aren’t familiar with the background, the island’s Australian immigration detention centre opened in 2003 and has ever since been the scene of repeated unrest.

By 2010 it was holding 2,208 asylum seekers in detention and by 2013 it was exceeding its “operating capacity” by hundreds.

WATCH: Meet Hani Abdile. She spent 11 months on Christmas Island. Post continues after video.

Video by Mamamia

There were brawls, protests, a frightening number of suicides and hunger strikes. Time and time again, the people there protested about the living conditions.

In 2014, doctors reported to the ABC that children in detention were “showing physical health problems like rotting teeth and fungal infections, along with developmental and mental health problems”.

An Australian Human Rights Commission report talked about the “harsh and cramped living conditions” and about children and their families describing detention as “punishment for seeking asylum”.

Kopika and Tharunicaa are the daughters of the Biloela Tamil family currently being held at the detention centre on Christmas Island. Armed guards escort them to school. Image: AAP.

It found that the centre was going against basic human rights like: "the right to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person."

The centre was closed in September 2018, and after a $180 million renovation reopened in February 2019.

The newly renovated Christmas Island facilities. Image: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Now, the centre is under attack once again (even newly renovated), as Aussies in quarantine on the island share the horrible living conditions they're enduring.

Tamil parents Priya and Nadesalingam and their Australian-born daughters Kopika, four, and Tharunicaa, two, have been experiencing these conditions since August.

They were the only ones being held here, before the decision was made to turn it into a temporary quarantine zone.

Life on Christmas Island, in 2020.

Along with Priya, Nagesalingam and their young children, there are now 240 Australian citizens and permanent residents currently being housed in the island's detention centre, among them 84 children under 16 and five infants under two.


They'll spend two weeks there in a restricted isolation area after being evacuated from Wuhan, where the coronavirus first broke out.

Evacuee Belinda Chen told the ABC her kids are "too scared to touch their beds" noting that the hygiene issues "make it worse than's thousands of times worse than I imagined".

"I understood that there would be very limited facilities here, but the actual condition is no facilities at all," she told the publication.

ABC China correspondent Bill Birtles shared a picture of two children whose mother, Gloria Zeng, tried to make Christmas Island feel like an adventure for them. Zeng said those who didn't expect too much were not disappointed.


There's limited internet, cockroaches everywhere, and one Aussie even remarked that "it feels like we are a pack of animals."


Not everyone is repulsed by the conditions, with one man telling the ABC it's "not very good, but still acceptable."

None of the Christmas Island evacuees are showing any signs of the virus, and are required to spend a total of 14 days there before being allowed to come home.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said they were looking at another flight-load of Australians being brought out of Wuhan.


Fifty Australians who boarded an Air New Zealand flight are expected to also make their way to Christmas Island.

Yahoo News reports a pregnant woman and her partner were allowed to instead be diverted to Perth and placed in isolation there as there are no maternity facilities on the island.

So far 426 people have died from the novel coronavirus, and more than 20,000 cases have been reported around the world, including eight in Australia.


The government has come under fire for the decision to house the Wuhan evacuees on Christmas Island, with the Australian Medical Association expressing concern.

“We have just heard from Dr Bartone from the Australian Medical Association, saying that they’ve not been consulted on this and that we need to find a more humane solution. What is your response?” Today Show host Allison Langdon asked Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton last week.

"Find a more humane solution." Allison Langdon's heated debate about Christmas Island.
The Today Show hosts had a heated exchange last week with Peter Dutton about Christmas Island. Image: Nine.

“Look, Tony is a very decent guy and a great doctor and obviously the AMA has had a longstanding position opposing Christmas Island. So I think that is an issue really that’s in the past, and the fact is we need to find a facility that can accommodate in the order of 500, 600 people. We want to make sure that we’re protecting Australians both offshore and here as well,” Mr Dutton replied.


But despite the reports coming out of the facility from the Aussies who will be calling it home for the next two weeks, there is one family that won't be coming home after 14 days.