Although Europeans sighted the island as early as 1615, it was only named in 1643 by English Captain William MYNORS for the day of its rediscovery. Another English ship sailed by the island in 1688 and found it uninhabited. Attempts to explore the island over the next two centuries were hampered by steep cliffs and dense jungle. Phosphate discovery on the island in 1887, lead to the UK annexing it the following year. In 1898, the Christmas Island Phosphate Company brought in 200 Chinese indentured servants to work the mines, along with Malays, Sikhs, and a small number of Europeans. The UK administered Christmas Island from Singapore.
Japan invaded the island in 1942, but islanders sabotaged Japanese mining operations, making the mines relatively unproductive. After World War II, Australia and New Zealand bought the Christmas Island Phosphate Company, and in 1958, the UK transferred sovereignty from Singapore to Australia in exchange for $20 million for the loss of future phosphate income. In 1980, Australia set up the Christmas Island National Park and expanded its boundaries throughout the 1980s until it covered more than 60% of the island’s territory. The phosphate mine was closed in 1987 because of environmental concerns and Australia has rejected several efforts to reopen it.
In the 1980s, boats of asylum seekers started landing on Christmas Island and the migrants claimed refugee status since they were on Australian territory. In 2001, Australia declared Christmas Island outside the Australian migration zone and built an immigration detention center on the island. Completed in 2008, the controversial detention center was officially closed in 2018, but then reopened in early 2019. In 2020, the center served as a coronavirus quarantine facility for Australian citizens evacuated from China.
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NOTE: The information regarding Christmas Island on this page is re-published from the 2023 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and other sources. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Christmas Island 2023 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Christmas Island 2023 should be addressed to the CIA or the source cited on each page.
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