Government Needs to Release Remaining 745 Children from Detention

Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to release 150 children and their families from mainland detention centres as they wait for their refugee claims to be heard is a small, but positive step towards the humane treatment of asylum seekers.

However, with this decision only extending to children under ten years of age, 745 children will remain locked away in detention.

This includes 414 children aged 11 – 18 years in onshore detention centres and 331 children and babies, including a number without family members, in sub-standard facilities on Christmas Island and Nauru.

Releasing some children and not others is a cruel and arbitrary policy position, leaving a significant number of children exposed to the horrific impacts of detention, including depression, developmental problems and the serious risk of abuse.

The Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry has recently heard damning evidence from psychologists and other experts working with children in immigration detention of the mental and physical suffering they are currently enduring.

The inquiry has received many written submissions directly from children in detention, where they speak of constant worrying, insomnia, untreated health problems, bullying and terrible living conditions.

The Minister has talked up the ‘humanitarian’ basis for his decision to release children under ten from onshore detention facilities.

The fact that some 745 children will remain locked up suggests that this is not a humanitarian decision, but a political one, particularly with the Minister due to give evidence, under oath, at the children in detention inquiry on Friday.

The Government while in Opposition said they would release children from mainland detention centres. They have left children languishing in detention for almost a year before making any efforts towards doing this – and now they are only keeping this promise for children aged ten and under.

ASRC takes the view that no child belongs in detention. We remain gravely concerned for the health and wellbeing of the hundred of children left behind.

Given the overwhelming evidence about the harm caused by Australian detention centres, the government should release all children into the community where they can go to school, receive proper medical care and nutrition and are free to engage in community and social activities that are so crucial to their wellbeing and development.

Snapshot of Children in Detention:

• There are currently 895 children locked in immigration detention facilities in Australia and offshore (as at 31 July 2014).
• Of these, 331 children are being held in detention on Christmas Island and Nauru.
• More than 70 per cent of people currently in detention have been held for between six and 18 months.
• There are 54 unaccompanied children being held in detention (as at 31 March 2014)
• There were 128 reported incidents of self-harm amongst children in detention from January 2013 to March 2014.

*Statistics taken from Department of Immigration and Australian Human Rights Commission.

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