22 February 2015

Refugee children and barbed wire

Catching up with the Australian Human Rights Commission report The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention.

The report states
Australia currently holds about 800 children in mandatory closed immigration detention for indefinite periods, with no pathway to protection or settlement. This includes 186 children detained on Nauru.
Children and their families have been held on the mainland and on Christmas Island for, on average, one year and two months. Over 167 babies have been born in detention within the last 24 months.
This Report gives a voice to these children.
It provides compelling first-hand evidence of the negative impact that prolonged immigration detention is having on their mental and physical health. The evidence given by the children and their families is fully supported by psychiatrists, paediatricians and academic research. The evidence shows that immigration detention is a dangerous place for children. Data from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection describes numerous incidents of assault, sexual assault and self-harm in detention environments.
Importantly, the Government recognises that the fact of detention contributes significantly to mental illness among detainees.
The aims of the Inquiry have been to:
  • Assess the impact of prolonged immigration detention on children’s health, wellbeing and development by collecting the evidence of children and their families, scholarly research, Department of Immigration and Border Protection data and the views of medical experts and the Australian community 
  • Promote compliance with Australia’s international obligations to act in the best interests of children.
There is nothing new in the finding that mandatory immigration detention is contrary to Australia’s international obligations. The Australian Human Rights Commission and respective Presidents and Commissioners over the last 25 years have been unanimous in reporting that such detention, especially of children, breaches the right not to be detained arbitrarily. The aim of this Inquiry was not to revisit the Commission’s settled view of the law, but rather to assess the evidence of the impact of prolonged detention on children.
As the medical evidence has mounted over the last eight months of the Inquiry, it has become increasingly difficult to understand the policy of both Labor and Coalition Governments. Both the Hon Chris Bowen MP, as a former Minister for Immigration, and the Hon Scott Morrison MP, the current Minister for Immigration, agreed on oath before the Inquiry that holding children in detention does not deter either asylum seekers or people smugglers. No satisfactory rationale for the prolonged detention of children seeking asylum in Australia has been offered. ...
This Report is fundamentally different from previous reports by the Commission as it focuses in both a qualitative and quantitative way, on the impact of immigration detention on children as reported by children and their parents. The Commission conducted interviews with 1129 children and parents in detention, providing a much needed foundation for objective research findings. Standard questions were used in all interviews so that the reported impacts are measurable. The evidence documented in this Report demonstrates unequivocally that prolonged detention of children leads to serious negative impacts on their mental and emotional health and development. This is supported by robust academic literature.
It is also clear that the laws, policies and practices of Labor and Coalition Governments are in serious breach of the rights guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also suggests in his opening address to the Human Rights Council that Australia’s policy of offshore processing and boat turn backs is ‘leading to a chain of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and possible torture following return to home countries’.
The Commission comments -
The overarching finding of the Inquiry is that the prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seeker children causes them significant mental and physical illness and developmental delays, in breach of Australia’s international obligations.
The following is a snapshot of the findings:
  • Children in immigration detention have significantly higher rates of mental health disorders than children in the Australian community. 
  • Both the former and current Ministers for Immigration agreed that holding children for prolonged periods in remote detention centres, does not deter people smugglers or asylum seekers. There appears to be no rational explanation for the prolonged detention of children. 
  • The right of all children to education was denied for over a year to those held on Christmas Island. 
  • The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, as the guardian of unaccompanied children, has failed in his responsibility to act in their best interests. 
  • The Commonwealth’s decision to use force to transfer children on Christmas Island to a different centre breached their human rights. 
  • The numerous reported incidents of assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm involving children indicate the danger of the detention environment. 
  • At least 12 children born in immigration detention are stateless, and may be denied their right to nationality and protection. 
  • Dozens of children with physical and mental disabilities are detained for prolonged periods. 
  • Some children of parents assessed as security risks have been detained for over two years without hope of release. 
  • Children detained indefinitely on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress.
The Commission notes
It is troubling that members of the Government and Parliament and Departmental officials are either uninformed, or choose to ignore, the human rights treaties to which Australia is a party. The High Court of Australia in Teoh has confirmed that, when making decisions that affect children, government officials should take account of the rights guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It accordingly recommends -
  • All children and their families be released into community detention or the community on bridging visas with a right to work. 
  • Legislation be enacted to ensure that children may be detained under the Migration Act for only so long as is necessary for health, identity and security checks. 
  • Assessment of refugee status be commenced immediately according to the rule of law. 
  • No child be sent offshore for processing unless it is clear that their human rights will be respected. 
  • An independent guardian be appointed for unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Australia. 
  • An independent review be conducted into the decision to approve the use of force to transfer unaccompanied children on Christmas Island on 24 March 2014. 
  • All detention centres be equipped with sufficient CCTV or other cameras to capture significant incidents in detention. 
  • ASIO review the case of each parent with an adverse security assessment in order to identify whether their family can be moved into the community. 
  • Alternative community detention be available for children of families assessed as security risks. 
  • Children in immigration detention be assessed regularly using the HoNOSCA mental health assessment tool. 
  • Children currently or previously detained at any time since 1992 have access to government funded mental health support. 
  • Children in detention who were denied education on Christmas Island for a year be assessed to determine what educational support they require. 
  • Children and families in immigration detention receive information about the provision of free legal advice and access to phones and computers. 
  • Legislation be enacted to give direct effect to the Convention on the Rights of the Child under Australian law. 
  • A royal commission be set up to examine the continued use of the 1992 policy of mandatory detention, the use of force by the Commonwealth against children in detention and allegations of sexual assault against these children and to consider remedies for breach of the Commonwealth’s duty of care to detained children. 
  • An independent review of the implementation of these recommendations be conducted in 12 months.