Children in detention exposed to danger: Human Rights watch
Feb. 15, Australia: The Forgotten Children – A report of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s national inquiry into the impact of immigration detention on children was released recently. The report was released three months after it was provided to the government.
The report said that more than 300 children committed or threatened self-harm in a 15-month period in Australian immigration detention, 30 reported sexual assault, nearly 30 went on hunger strike and more than 200 were involved in assaults.
The long-awaited inquiry into children in immigration detention report found custody was inherently dangerous for children, and that “prolonged detention is having profoundly negative impacts on the mental and emotional health and development of children”. At the time of writing this report, children and adults had been detained for over a year on average.
There are 257 children in Australian immigration custody, including 119 on Nauru. More than 100 children, previously held on Christmas Island, have been released into the community on the mainland on bridging visas over the past fortnight, the report says.
The report makes for disturbing reading. Anyone who has read it will be left with one question in mind: why has Australia maintained a policy that medical and other evidence has proven beyond doubt causes severe damage to children? Since the report was provided to the government last October, the commission has been subject to the criticism that it is politically biased.
The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs said that despite “the best efforts” of immigration department staff and contractors to properly care for children, detention was damaging children’s mental health, making them physically, sometimes chronically, sick, and cruelling their educations.
The report said, “It is the fact of detention, particularly the deprivation of liberty and the high numbers of mentally unwell adults, that is causing emotional and developmental disorders among children.” “Children are exposed to danger by their close confinement with adults who suffer high levels of mental illness. Thirty per cent of adults detained with children have moderate to severe mental illnesses.”
Australia is the only country in the World that mandatory detains all unlawful non-citizens, including children. Australia also holds children in indefinite detention if a parent has an adverse Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) security finding made against them.
The report said that some children have been detained for longer than 19 months because at least one of their parents has an adverse security assessment by Asio. The indefinite detention of these children raises special concerns for their physical and mental health, and their future life opportunities, the report further said. It also raided particular concern about children on Nauru.
According to the report, children on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress. The commission is concerned that detention on Nauru is mandatory for children and there is no time limit on how long they will be detained.
In 2004, the Human Rights Commission launched A Last Resort?, a three-year inquiry into children in detention. In the aftermath of that report, the Howard government released all children from immigration detention.
In the current report, Triggs expressed disappointment that Australia had since regressed in its treatment of asylum seeker children.
“At the time of the previous national inquiry, the number of children in detention peaked at 842 children. In July 2013, just before the change of government, a record number of 1,992 children were in detention.”
The Oslo Times