ACSJC Secretariat Briefing March 2015



From the Secretariat March 2015

Dear Friends,

Last month, the report of Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention was released, with AHRC President Gillian Triggs describing the levels of mental health disorders among children in immigration detention as ‘deeply shocking’.

The long-awaited report, The Forgotten Children, reveals the findings of the expert team who visited 11 detention centres, with repeat visits to Christmas Island, took over a thousand interviews with children and their parents and received over 230 submissions.

Among the findings are the following revelations on the impact of the detention regime:

  • 34 per cent of children detained in Australia and Christmas Island have a mental health disorder of such severity that they require psychiatric support. The rate is likely to be higher on Nauru.
  • There were 128 incidents of self-harm amongst children over a 15 month period from 2013-2014.
  • There were 27 incidents of voluntary starvation involving children over the same period.
  • 128 babies were born in detention, many having their first birthday without ever knowing freedom.
  • Children have been exposed to unacceptable levels of assault, including sexual assault and violence in detention.
  • Children live in very cramped conditions where disease and fear spread quickly.

The report provides first-hand evidence of the impact that prolonged immigration detention has on the mental and physical health of children. It also identifies the impact of detention on the key developmental stages of children as infants, pre-schoolers, primary aged children and teenagers.

Two key recommendations call for all children and their families in immigration detention in Australia and Nauru to be released into the community and for the Migration Act to be amended to provide that children and parents may be detained only for a strictly limited period of time necessary to conduct health, identity and security checks.

The report can be accessed here.

Following the tabling of the report in Parliament, the Prime Minister questioned the credibility of the Australian Human Rights Commission and labelled the report ‘a blatantly partisan politicised exercise’. Clearly, the expertise of the inquiry team, backed up by medical experts, including five paediatricians and four child psychiatrists, is unquestionable. And, as Gillian Triggs has said,‘The commission has worked tirelessly over many years reporting on the failure by both Labor and Liberal governments to comply with their international law obligations to refugees.’ Children in detention and the policies that are causing the harm were the focus of the national inquiry.

Following the release of the report, over 230 Australian human rights organisations and community groups have signed a joint statement calling on all members of the Federal Parliament to take action to end the detention of children once and for all. Coordinated by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), the statement urges the Parliament to introduce legislation to prevent children from being detained for immigration purposes in the future.

The statement was supported by national peak bodies, religious groups, refugee and asylum seeker support agencies, international development agencies, health services, welfare agencies, legal centres and human rights groups, including the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.

In addition to arguing for legislative change, the statement calls for the release of children and families detained in Nauru and for allegations of child sexual abuse in Australian-funded detention centres to be referred to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

‘The Australian Human Rights Commission report is a well-researched, detailed and deeply disturbing account of the harm inflicted on vulnerable children as a direct result of decisions taken by successive governments,’ RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said.

‘All of the politicians and bureaucrats involved in detaining children knew what they were doing, as the consequences for children’s mental and physical health were clearly outlined in the Commission’s 2004 report on the detention of children and numerous research reports and parliamentary inquiries.

‘Neither of Australia’s major political parties has anything to be proud of. The Rudd and Gillard Governments set new records for the numbers of children detained while the Abbott Government has seen the average length of detention blow out from three months to more than 14 months in its relatively short time in office,’ he said.

The RCOA statement can be found here.

From the early days of his pontificate, Pope Francis has highlighted the need to overcome a ‘globalisation of indifference’ to the most vulnerable and marginalised of the world. He highlighted the problem of this indifference when he visited the Island of Lampedusa in 2013 – when he prayed for asylum seekers who had lost their lives at sea.

And this January, the Holy Father raised the problem of the world’s indifference to asylum seekers at his annual meeting with members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. He recalled how the Christmas stories of the Holy Family highlight the vulnerability of children in a hostile world.

‘From the very start, he is cast aside, left out in the cold, forced to be born in a stable since there was no room at the inn (cf. Lk2:7). If this is how the Son of God was treated, how much more so is the case with so many of our brothers and sisters! Rejection is an attitude we all share; it makes us see our neighbour not as a brother or sister to be accepted, but as unworthy of our attention, a rival, or someone to be bent to our will. This is the mindset which fosters that “throwaway culture” which spares nothing and no one: nature, human beings, even God himself. It gives rise to a humanity filled with pain and constantly torn by tensions and conflicts of every sort.

‘Emblematic of this, in the Gospel infancy narratives, is King Herod. Feeling his authority threatened by the Child Jesus, he orders all the children of Bethlehem to be killed. We think immediately of Pakistan, where a month ago, more than a hundred children were slaughtered with unspeakable brutality.’

The Pope highlighted the flight of thousands from their homelands in search of sanctuary, including those who are particularly vulnerable – children at risk of people trafficking, orphaned children and unaccompanied minors.

He made an appeal to the diplomats of the world that has some affinity with the findings and recommendations of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. Pope Francis said, ‘Here, in your presence, I appeal to the entire international community, as I do to the respective governments involved, to take concrete steps to bring about peace and to protect all those who are victims of war and persecution, driven from their homes and their homelands.’

John Ferguson

National Executive Officer

Updated: March 5, 2015 — 11:52 am
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