Inquiry into Children Seeking Asylum Gathers Support
3 February 2014 at 4:26 pm
The Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into the mandatory and closed detention of children seeking asylum in Australia has been welcomed by the national peak body for refugees.
The inquiry will be led by the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs.
“This inquiry will investigate the impact of immigration detention on the health, well-being and development of these children,” Prof Triggs said.
“These are children that, among other things, have been denied freedom of movement, many of whom are spending important developmental years of their lives living behind wire in highly stressful environments.”
The Commission said that its 2004 landmark report, A Last Resort? National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, found that the mandatory immigration detention of children was fundamentally inconsistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations and that detention for long periods created a high risk of serious mental harm.
“It has been ten years since the ‘A Last Resort?’ report and, when that inquiry was announced, there were over 700 children in immigration detention,” Prof Triggs said.
“Today the numbers are far higher than at any time during the first national inquiry, with over 1000 children currently in immigration detention facilities in Australia and over 100 children detained in the regional processing centre of Nauru.”
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) chief executive officer Paul Power said there was widespread public concern about the Federal Government’s long-standing practice of detaining children in immigration detention, and strong support for community-based alternatives to detention.
“The devastating psychological impacts of detention of children are well-known and have been widely discussed for more than a decade,” he said.
“No one can reasonably argue that a locked detention facility is a suitable place for a child, particularly one who has already been damaged by conflict, war or persecution.”
Power said he hoped the Commission’s inquiry would turn the Government’s attention to making the greatest use possible of the successful alternatives to detention first introduced by the Howard Government in 2006 and expanded by the Labor Government in 2010.
“Despite assurances by the Labor Government in 2010 that they would remove most children from immigration detention facilities and into the community, the numbers of children detained peaked at 1,992 in July 2013. In the final weeks before the election, this number was reduced to just under 1,100 but since then the rate of release from detention has slowed.
“As at 31 December 2013, 1,028 children were in closed detention facilities in Australia with 116 in detention on Nauru. In three months, the average time spent by asylum seekers, including children, in closed detention has grown from 105 days to 201 days.”
Power said he hoped the inquiry would highlight the incompatibility of detaining children with Australia’s human rights obligations and bring wider public attention to the policy.
“The Australian Government has long been sensitive about the practice of detaining children and, at times, has tried to hide the real situation from the public,” he said.
“Under the Rudd Labor Government, the Department of Immigration strongly defended its claim that children were not kept in ‘immigration detention centres’, arguing that children and families were only ever kept in designated ‘Alternative Places of Detention (APODs)’, which were actually locked detention facilities where conditions were much the same.
“When the Pontville Immigration Detention Centre in Tasmania was converted to an APOD to detain unaccompanied minors, the only change made to the security arrangements was to deactivate the electric fencing.”
Power said it was also essential that the Commission be allowed to visit Nauru to observe conditions faced by children in detention.
“The children detained on Nauru have been sent there by the Australian Government. All the costs of their detention are paid for by Australia and, as we have seen in recent months, Australia continues to choose when to send children to detention in Nauru or to bring them back,” he said.
“For the Commission to adequately scrutinise Australia’s policies for the immigration detention of children, it must have full access to all conditions faced by children detained on the Australian mainland and in locations established by Australia for the offshore processing of asylum claims.”
Prof Triggs said she expected that the Commission would complete the inquiry before the end of the year.
Prof Triggs said the new inquiry would also measure progress in the 10 years since the last investigation, and find out whether Australia is meeting its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, to which Australia is a party.
“It will be vital that we receive submissions from as many people as possible who currently have or previously have had contact with children who are or were asylum seekers and their families, including detainees themselves,” Prof Triggs said.
“The benefit of a national inquiry is that, through public hearings and submissions, it gives a voice to children and families who are directly affected by detention – as well as to people who have had direct experience with them in any number of community capacities, including professionals, experts, friends and others.”
For more information about the inquiry and submission forms, click here.