Feds to Release Asylum Seeker Children from Detention
19 August 2014 at 12:12 pm
The Federal Government says it will release hundreds of asylum-seeker children and their families from mainland detention centres on bridging visas – after months of urgent calls to action from advocacy, church and welfare organisations.
The decision announced by the Federal Government however will only apply to children who arrived under the previous Labor Government and will not see children in offshore facilities released.
The Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said families of children under the age of 10 will be moved into the community while their refugee applications are processed, after the Government approved new bridging visa arrangements.
He said the children must have arrived before July 19 last year to be released and the policy will not apply to children on Nauru or Christmas Island.
The Minister said the decision was both a humanitarian and financial one and would save $50 million.
It’s understood that there are 876 children currently in detention, including on Nauru, with 148 on Christmas Island.
People who arrived in Australia by boat after July 19 last year are still subject to offshore processing.
“It has always been the Abbott Government's policy to place as many children into the community as possible, especially young children,” Scott Morrison told ABC Radio.
“There were 1547 children in residential accommodation as part of the community detention programme at the end of July.”
Morrison said he hoped to have the children released by the end of the year.
“It’s importantly a humanitarian issue. The Government doesn’t want to see children in detention.
“The offshore resettlement policy which came into force in July last year was stopping children getting on boats,” he said.
“It’s important we get those who are in detention on the mainland out of detention.
“But I certainly don’t want children getting on boats, and Customs officers and Navy officers having to go back to the gruesome tasks of saving children in the water, and in the worst case, getting corpses out of the water.’’
He said the new arrangements would provide more support for asylum-seeker children to go to school, as well as emergency relief payments if needed and access to healthcare and English language courses.
A recent Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention outlined issues of self harm, mental health problems and medical neglect.
And the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has called on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to investigate the plight of asylum-seeker children in Australian-run detention centres.
Taskforce chair Dr Peter Catt made the call at the Brisbane launch of the Protecting The Lonely Children taskforce report.
Dr Catt said the Taskforce would refer to the Royal Commission for investigation the allegations of child sexual abuse in Nauru, levelled by the Save the Children organisation.
“We will be calling on the Commission to investigate these allegations as a matter of urgency,” he said.
The Taskforce has labelled the treatment of children in detention ‘state sanctioned child abuse’ – a claim vehemently rejected by the Federal Government.
The Refugee Council of Australia says welcomes the Government’s efforts to remove some children from detention given the evidence given to the Human Rights Commission on the impact of their treatment.
“We will be looking for more information about the new supplementary arrangements to ensure they are adequate and we call on the Government not to forget the children still on Christmas Island and Nauru,” RCOA Policy officer, Lucy Morgan said.
“We know the impact of detention on these children is very serious and it is important that the release options are also available for offshore detainees.”
UNICEF Australia says the Government announcement echoes a sectorwide call by child-rights and child-welfare organisations to remove children from immigration detention, and lobbying to review the health, welfare and long-term impact of Australia’s detention policies on children.
“Arguments that community detention for children who detained in mainland institutions will save $50 million, can as easily be applied to children in offshore detention, in fact more so, with reports offshore detention costs the Australia taxpayer more than $3,500 per person, per day,” UNICEF Australia Chief Executive Officer Norman Gillespie said.
“We look forward to the details of this arrangement and a commitment that ensures children and families will be kept together,” he said.
“Children are suffering in immigration detention. This is a solution for children in mainland detention, but there are children and families on Nauru and Christmas Island who will continue to suffer.”