Asylum Children ‘Abused by State’ - Report
30 July 2014 at 10:39 am
A coalition of Church leaders has accused the Federal Government of “state sanctioned child abuse” and called for the Minister for Immigration to be stripped of guardianship responsibility for unaccompanied child asylum seekers.
The claim follows the launch in Melbourne of a new report detailing what the Australian Council of Churches Refugee Taskforce says is neglect and abuse of many of the unaccompanied child asylum seekers held in closed and offshore immigration detention facilities by Australia.
However, a spokesperson for the Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison says claims of state sanctioned child abuse are shocking and offensive and the Minister rejects these categorically.
The report is called Protecting the Lonely Children: Recommendations to the Australian Government and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child with respect to unaccompanied children who seek asylum and refuge in Australia.
“These vulnerable children are being locked away behind razor wire for the ‘crime’ of being born in countries in political and social turmoil,” the chair of the taskforce, Dr Peter Catt, said.
“It is a sick joke that under Australia’s inadequate Guardianship Act their jailor is also their guardian, the Minister for Immigration.
“These children are held like animals in conditions that are inhumane, interrogated without support or representation, shipped around the country and offshore in the middle of the night, and denied basic rights including education.
“Given the Government continues to ignore irrefutable independent evidence from health and legal experts about the plight of these children we have no hesitation in labelling this what it is – state sanctioned child abuse.”
Dr Catt said the Taskforce, made up of representatives from Anglican, Assyrian, Baptist, Catholic, Churches of Christ, Lutheran, Quaker, Salvation Army and Uniting Church denominations, called for:
Fundamental reform of the Guardianship Act to ensure an independent guardian of unaccompanied child asylum seekers;
Establishment of a properly resourced independent Statutory Office for the Guardianship of Minors;
A new inquiry by the Australian Human Rights Commission into the conditions of children in community detention programs;
Ending offshore detention of unaccompanied minors and in favour of community care in Australia;
Developing better care standards to end the “care lotto” – wildly varying conditions depending on provider and location.
“We gave the Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, and his Labor counterpart, Richard Marles, right of reply to the draft report we published, back in October last year,” Dr Catt said.
“That neither politician provided substantial or satisfactory responses to the serious issues raised by the Taskforce back in October last year, confirms the utter moral failure of leadership in this country.”
However the spokesperson for the Minister for Immigration said the Government takes the protection of children very seriously and is committed to ensuring they are protected from exploitation and abuse.
“The overwhelming majority of unaccompanied minors in Australia live in the Australian community, either in specialised care arrangements for minors in community detention or through a dedicated care programme for those who have been granted a visa (the Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors Programme).
“They are supported with accommodation, appropriate supervision and care, and receive assistance to access school and community activities. They are also supported to learn age-appropriate life skills.
“The department works with a wide range of stakeholders in both designing and delivering these services for unaccompanied minors, and many church-based organisations are directly involved.
“Allegations of state sanctioned child abuse are an insult to all both in and outside of government who care for these young people.
“The Minister takes guardianship responsibilities seriously and the department delivers a range of specialised programmes and services to ensure minors in the care of the Australian Government are appropriately cared for.
“The Minister has continued the practice of previous Ministers in exercising these guardianship responsibilities," the spokesperson said.