SYDNEY Feb 24 Australian management firm
Transfield Services has won a A$1.2 billion ($1.1
billion) contract to run the country's two troubled Pacific
island immigration detention centres.
The centres on the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru and
Papua New Guinea's Manus island have been plagued by security
and infrastructure problems and have been criticised by human
rights groups and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Last week, one asylum seeker was killed and at least 77
injured in violent nclashes at the Manus Island detention
Australia uses offshore detention centres to process asylum
seekers who often pay people smugglers in Indonesia to sail them
into Australian waters.
British firm G4S, the world's biggest security
group, previously held the tender to run the Manus Island
centre. It is under investigation by the Australian government
to determine whether there was any misconduct by PNG G4S
employees during the recent riot.
G4S has a chequered history. In 2012, it failed to provide
enough staff for the London Olympics and has since been involved
in problems with an electronic tagging contract in Britain and
unrest at prisons it has run in South Africa and Britain.
Shares in Transfield, which already provides security at the
Nauru centre, surged 26 percent to 2-1/2 month highs of A$1.00
after the Manus Island contract was awarded.
In July 2013, a riot broke out on Nauru after the Australian
government announced it would send all asylum seekers to Papua
New Guinea for assessment and eventual resettlement. Several
accommodation buildings were destroyed by fire.
Refugees detained on Nauru have staged hunger strikes and
committed other forms of self-harm, with some attempting suicide
in protest against the facility's conditions.
"We do not underestimate or take for granted the differences
in circumstances in Nauru and Manus," Transfield's Chief
Executive Officer Graeme Hunt said in a statement released to
the Australian Stock Exchange.
"We take this opportunity and responsibility very
seriously," he said. A formal handover for the 20-month contract
would start in early March, Hunt said.
Refugee advocates said the changes to management at the
detention centres would be minimal, arguing that the problem was
the existence of offshore processing itself.
The number of asylum seekers reaching Australia pales in
comparison with other countries but it is a polarising political
issue that stokes tension with neighbouring Indonesia.
($1 = 1.1159 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Michael