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Australian Government finally reveals number of Kiwis locked up on Christmas Island detention centre

The Australian Government has revealed for the first time how many New Zealand citizens have been kept locked up in a notorious off-shore detention centre – with one person held there for more than two years.

Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Force has provided TVNZ1's Sunday programme with information about New Zealand citizens held at Christmas Island almost five months after it was requested.

You can watch Sunday's full episode on Christmas Island here 

The detention centre is located 2600 kilometres from Perth, closer to Indonesia than Australia, and the cost of travelling there can be prohibitively expensive for families. In the past there have been riots at the centre, which is run by private security company Serco.

Sunday visited Christmas Island in November last year with Filipa Payne, a Christchurch woman who advocates for New Zealand citizens who have had their visas cancelled under Australian immigration laws.

Filipa Payne says New Zealanders on the remote Australian island are in conditions worse than prison. Source: Breakfast

Australia has deemed that they don't pass a character test – they may have committed a crime, accused of a crime but not yet convicted by a court, or associated with gangs.

The Australian Government has made no apologies for the hard-line stance, saying they are not targeting New Zealanders and the rules apply to all foreigners who break the law.

Now figures released under Australia's Freedom of Information Act show there were 55 New Zealanders in the Christmas Island detention centre when Sunday visited in November.

One person had been there for 825 days. He is still being held there five months on, bringing his detention to two and a half years.

Filipa Payne said she was in contact with the 30-year-old man and he was at breaking point. He arrived in Australia with his family when he was six years old and has never been back to New Zealand.

The man’s lawyers had recently told him they did not consider his case could succeed and withdrew an appeal through Australia's Federal Court, she said.

"He feels he has no choice but to sign to come to New Zealand."

The newly released figures reveal that 273 New Zealanders had been rotated through the Christmas Island detention centre in the past three years.

They were held there on average for 125 days, or about four months, while they await deportation or go through an appeal process.

Filipa Payne said specific information about the detention centres has been hard to obtain and: "It's great to finally see some statistics regarding New Zealand citizens being detained on Christmas Island".

However, she said the information released by Australia gave a distorted view of the support New Zealand citizens can access.

While visitor records provided to TVNZ show social workers and advocates gained access to the centre, the New Zealand detainees had told Ms Payne they were mainly there to support asylum seekers.

The visitor records show that only six family members visited detainees in 2016, while 56 family members made the journey to the island in 2017.

"The Australian Government is implementing psychological warfare by continuing to use a strategy of isolation to break these men so they will sign immigration documentation and agree to be deported," Ms Payne said.

Australian Immigration said it did not have any information or reports about the general psychological impact of being detained on the island.

After being held on Christmas Island Ronald Neilson has been deported to NZ, where he knows no one. Source: Sunday